Integrated behavioral paradigms such as nociceptive processing coupled to anti-nociceptive responsiveness include systemically-mediated states of alertness, vigilance, motivation, and avoidance. Within a historical and cultural context, opium and its biologically active compounds, codeine and morphine, have been widely used as frontline anti-nociceptive agents. In eukaryotic cells, opiate alkaloids and opioid peptides were evolutionarily fashioned as regulatory factors in neuroimmune, vascular immune, and systemic immune communication and auto-immunoregulation. The significance of opioidergic regulation of immune function was validated by the identification of novel μ and δ opioid receptors on circulating leukocytes. The novel μ3 opioid receptor subtype has been characterized as an opioid peptide-insensitive and opiate alkaloid-selective G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) that is functionally linked to the activation of constitutive nitric oxide synthase (cNOS). Opioid peptides stimulate granulocyte and immunocyte activation and chemotaxis via activation of a novel leukocyte δ2 receptor subtype. However, opiate alkaloid μ3 receptor agonists inhibit these same cellular activities. Opiate coupling to cNOS and subsequent production and release of mitochondrial nitric oxide (NO) suggests an evolutionary linkage to similar physiological events in prokaryotic cells. A subpopulation of immunocytes from Mytilus edulis and Leucophaea maderae and human granulocytes respond to low opioid concentrations, mediated by the adherence-promoting role of (D-Ala2-D-Met5)-enkephalinamide (DAMA), which is blocked by naloxone in a dose-dependent manner. Neutral endopeptidase 24.11 (NEP), or enkephalinase (CD10), is present on both human and invertebrate immunocytes. Alkaloids, including morphine, are found in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells and may have evolved much later in evolution through horizontal gene transfer. It is possible that opioid-mediated regulatory activities were conserved and elaborated during evolution as the central nervous system (CNS) became immunologically isolated by the blood-brain barrier. Thus, opioid receptor coupling became significant for cognitive and behavioural processes. Although opioid peptides and alkaloids work synergistically to suppress nociception, they mediate different actions in immune surveillance. Increased understanding of the evolutionary development of opioid receptors, nociceptive and anti-nociceptive pathways, and immunomodulation may help in the understanding of the development of tolerance to the clinical use of opiates for pain management. The significance of endogenous morphine’s importance to evolution can be ascertained by the number of physiological tissues and systems that can be affected by this chemical messenger mechanism, which transcends pain. An integrated review is presented of opioid and opiate receptors, immunomodulation, and pain associated with inflammation, from an evolutionary perspective.
Copyright © 2020. Published by Elsevier B.V.