Opiate analgesics are widely used and abused drugs. Individual differences in opiate sensitivity can hamper effective pain treatments and increase risks of drug abuse. Although genetic factors might affect individual differences in opiate sensitivity, scientific evidence for specific genetic mechanisms that underlie these differences has been sparse. Recent studies using inbred and knockout mice have revealed that the mu opioid peptide (MOP) receptor encoded by the Oprm1 gene has a mandatory role in the analgesic and addictive properties of opiate drugs. Increasing evidence suggests that differences in Oprm1 gene sequences affect the amount of Oprm1 mRNA and sensitivity to opiates, and >100 polymorphisms have been identified in the human OPRM1 gene, some of which are related to vulnerability to drug dependence in some populations. Rapid advances in this research field are leading to improved understanding of the relationships between gene polymorphisms and opiate sensitivities that will enable more-accurate prediction of the opiate sensitivity and opiate requirements in individual patients.
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