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The increasing misuse of novel synthetic opioids (NSOs) represents a serious public health concern. In this regard, U-47700 (trans-3,4-dichloro-N-[2-(dimethylamino)cyclohexyl]-N-methylbenzamide) and related "U-compounds" emerged on recreational drug markets as synthetic substitutes for illicit heroin and constituents of counterfeit pain medications. While the pharmacology of U-compounds has been investigated using in vitro and in vivo methods, there is still a lack of understanding about the details of ligand-receptor interactions at the molecular level. To this end, we have developed a molecular modeling protocol based on docking and molecular dynamics simulations to assess the nature of ligand-receptor interactions for U-47700, N,N-didesmethyl U-47700, and U-50488 at the mu-opioid receptor (MOR) and kappa-opioid receptor (KOR). The evaluation of ligand-receptor and ligand-receptor-membrane interaction energies enabled the identification of subtle conformational shifts in the receptors induced by ligand binding. Interestingly, the removal of two key methyl groups from U-47700, to form N,N-didesmethyl U-47700, caused a loss of hydrogen bond contact with tryptophan (Trp)229, which may underlie the lower interaction energy and reduced MOR affinity for the compound. Taken together, our results are consistent with the reported biological findings for U-compounds and provide a molecular basis for the MOR selectivity of U-47700 and KOR selectivity of U-50488. © 2023 The Authors. Archiv der Pharmazie published by Wiley-VCH GmbH on behalf of Deutsche Pharmazeutische Gesellschaft.


Antonio Laus, Amit Kumar, Pierluigi Caboni, Maria A De Luca, Michael H Baumann, Enrico Pieroni, Graziella Tocco. In silico characterization of ligand-receptor interactions for U-47700, N,N-didesmethyl-U-47700, U-50488 at mu- and kappa-opioid receptors. Archiv der Pharmazie. 2023 Sep;356(9):e2300256

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PMID: 37452407

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