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Molecular mechanisms of analgesia induced by opioids and ethanol: is the GIRK channel one of the keys?

Opioids and ethanol have been used since ancient times for pain relief. Opioid signaling is mediated by various effectors, including G protein- activated inwardly rectifying potassium (GIRK) channels, adenylyl cyclases, voltage-dependent calcium channels, phospholipase Cbeta(PLCbeta), and mitogen-activated protein kinases, although it has been unclear which effector mediates the analgesic effects of opioids. Ethanol induces a variety of physiological phenomena via various proteins, including GIRK channels rather than via membrane lipids. GIRK channel activation by either G proteins or ethanol is impaired in weaver mutant mice. The mutant mice may therefore serve as a useful animal model for studying the role of GIRK channels in vivo. Reduced analgesia by using either opioids or ethanol in weaver mutant mice suggests that GIRK channels are important effectors in both opioid- and ethanol-induced analgesia. This hypothesis is supported by similar findings in GIRK2 knockout mice. Among the various effectors coupled with opioid receptors and various targets of ethanol, GIRK channels are the only molecules whose involvement in opioid- and ethanol-induced analgesia has been demonstrated in vivo. The GIRK channel is potentially one of the key molecules in furthering the understanding of the pain control system and in developing advanced analgesics with fewer adverse effects.[1]


  1. Molecular mechanisms of analgesia induced by opioids and ethanol: is the GIRK channel one of the keys? Ikeda, K., Kobayashi, T., Kumanishi, T., Yano, R., Sora, I., Niki, H. Neurosci. Res. (2002) [Pubmed]
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