New therapy uses body's painkiller peptides to cut inflammation aches

German and French researchers are collaborating across the border to develop an approach that uses the body's own painkillers to cut inflammatory pain, a form of pain that rarely responds to conventional therapies.

Pain is a big deal for patients, especially inflammatory pain. It's hard to treat and the most effective drugs have some real downsides. The side effects of opioids include nausea, drowsiness and constipation, and the drugs can be addictive, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can lead to stomach ulcers and bleeding, and may increase cardiovascular risk. What better way then to treat pain by using the body's own painkillers? Especially as blocking pain right where it starts might prevent the development of chronic pain.

The body tries to handle pain itself, by releasing endogenous opioid peptides including enkephalins and endorphins. However, these effects are curtailed by two naturally occurring enzymes, aminopeptidase N (APN) and neutral endopeptidase (NEP).

The aim of researchers at the Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the Université Paris Descartes is to stop this breakdown in the inflamed tissue. They found that blocking one, the other, or both of the enzymes in animals using inhibitors reduced or stopped the pain.

"Targeting of endogenous opioid peptides directly in injured tissues might be a promising strategy to treat inflammatory pain without serious side effects," states professor Halina Machelska-Stein of Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin.

To find out more, look at the study in The FASEB Journal.

- read the press release
- see the abstract in The FASEB Journal