The nociceptin receptor (NOP), also known as the nociceptin/orphanin FQ (N/OFQ) receptor or kappa-type 3 opioid receptor, is a protein that in humans is encoded by the OPRL1 (opioid receptor-like 1) gene. The nociceptin receptor is a member of the opioid subfamily of G protein-coupled receptors whose natural ligand is the 17 amino acid neuropeptide known as nociceptin (N/OFQ). This receptor is involved in the regulation of numerous brain activities, particularly instinctive and emotional behaviors.
Although NOP shares high sequence identity (~60%) with the ‘classical’ opioid receptors μ-OR (MOR), κ-OR (KOR), and δ-OR (DOR), it possesses little or no affinity for opioid peptides or morphine-like compounds. Likewise, classical opioid receptors possess little affinity towards NOP’s endogenous ligand nociceptin, which is structurally related to dynorphin A.
Several commonly used opioid drugs including etorphine and buprenorphine have been demonstrated to bind to nociceptin receptors, but this binding is relatively insignificant compared to their activity at other opioid receptors in the acute setting (however the non-analgesic NOPr antagonist SB-612,111 was demonstrated to potentiate the therapeutic benefits of morphine). Chronic administration of nociceptin receptor agonists results in an attentuation of the analgesic and anti-allodynic effects of opiates; this mechanism inhibits the action of endogenous opioids as well, resulting in an increase in pain severity, depression, and both physical and psychological opiate dependence following chronic NOPr agonist administration. Administration of the NOPr antagonist SB-612,111 has been shown to inhibit this process. More recently a range of selective ligands for NOP have been developed, which show little or no affinity to other opioid receptors and so allow NOP-mediated responses to be studied in isolation.
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