BACKGROUND: A novel G-protein signalling-biased mu opioid peptide (MOP) receptor agonist, PZM21, was recently developed with a distinct chemical structure. It is a potent Gi/o activator with minimal β-arrestin-2 recruitment. Despite intriguing activity in rodent models, PZM21 function in non-human primates is unknown. The aim of this study was to investigate PZM21 actions after systemic or intrathecal administration in primates.
METHODS: Antinociceptive, reinforcing, and pruritic effects of PZM21 were compared with those of the clinically used MOP receptor agonists oxycodone and morphine in assays of acute thermal nociception, capsaicin-induced thermal allodynia, itch scratching responses, and drug self-administration in gonadally intact, adult rhesus macaques (10 males, six females).
RESULTS: After subcutaneous administration, PZM21 (1.0-6.0 mg kg-1) and oxycodone (0.1-0.6 mg kg-1) induced dose-dependent thermal antinociceptive effects (P<0.05); PZM21 was 10 times less potent than oxycodone. PZM21 exerted oxycodone-like reinforcing effects and strength as determined by two operant schedules of reinforcement in the intravenous drug self-administration assay. After intrathecal administration, PZM21 (0.03-0.3 mg) dose-dependently attenuated capsaicin-induced thermal allodynia (P<0.05). Although intrathecal PZM21 and morphine induced MOP receptor-mediated antiallodynic effects, both compounds induced robust, long-lasting itch scratching.
CONCLUSIONS: PZM21 induced antinociceptive, reinforcing, and pruritic effects similar to clinically used MOP receptor agonists in primates. Although structure-based discovery of PZM21 identified a novel avenue for studying G-protein signalling-biased ligands, biasing an agonist towards G-protein signalling pathways did not determine or alter reinforcing (i.e. abuse potential) or pruritic effects of MOP receptor agonists in a translationally relevant non-human primate model.