May 13, 2016

New pain medicine from a fungus?

Collybolide – a natural product isolated from a mushroom – is a promising candidate for the development of non-addictive pain medicines.

by Sanjay Mishra


Opioids – nitrogen-containing “alkaloid” compounds such as morphine – are commonly prescribed as pain medicines, but they cause dependence. Recent research has suggested that one type of opioid receptor – the kappa-opioid receptor (KOR) – may be a promising target for the development of non-addictive therapeutics.

Now, in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Joseph Parello, Ph.D., and colleagues at Vanderbilt, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, and at the University of Oklahoma, show that collybolide, a non-nitrogenous “terpene” compound isolated from a mushroom, functions as a novel KOR agonist in a highly selective manner.

Collybolide structurally resembles salvinorin A, another terpene agonist at KOR, but the two differ in cell signaling. While both can suppress pain, collybolide also displays a robust anti-itch activity in mice. Due to its modifiable structure, collybolide is a promising candidate for the development of novel therapeutics targeting KOR.

This research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (DA008863, NS026880, DA007135).

Send suggestions for articles to highlight in Aliquots and any other feedback about the column to