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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: derekb.lowe@gmail.com Twitter: Dereklowe

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In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

In the Pipeline

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April 28, 2010

Homemade Morphine?

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Posted by Derek

I wrote here some time ago about human cells actually making their own morphine - real morphine, the kind that everyone thought was only produced in poppy plants. Now there's a paper in PNAS where various deuterium-labeled precursors of morphine were dosed in rats, and in each case they converted it to the next step in the known biosynthesis. The yields were small, since each compound was metabolically degraded as well, but it appears that rats are capable of all steps of a morphine synthesis from at least the isoquinoline compound tetrahydropapaveroline (THP).

And that's pretty interesting, because it's also been established that rats have small THP in their brains and other tissues - as do humans. And humans, it appears, almost always have trace amounts of morphine in the urine - which leads one to think that our bodies may well, in fact, be making it themselves.

Why that's happening is quite another question, and where the THP comes from is another one. Working under the assumption that all this machinery is not just there for the heck of it, you also wonder if this system could be the source of one or more drug targets (I spoke about that possibility here). What you probably don't want to assume is that these targets would necessarily have to do with pain. We still don't know if there's room to work in here. But it's worth thinking about, if (for no other reason) to remind ourselves that there are plenty of things going on inside the human body that we don't understand at all.

Comments (5) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Biological News | The Central Nervous System


COMMENTS

1. Biofuel on April 28, 2010 7:12 AM writes...

Does Human use the same pathway as plant to produce morphine?

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2. Rob on April 28, 2010 8:33 AM writes...

A quick look at the THP structure brought to mind many of the phytoestrogens like querectin which have a number of cryptic activities (i.e. proposed, but not fully verified by experiment). Be neat if they actually had some function.

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3. RB Woodweird on April 28, 2010 10:48 AM writes...

"And humans, it appears, almost always have trace amounts of morphine in the urine - which leads one to think that our bodies may well, in fact, be making it themselves."

Oh good. Any idea when the screening technology gets to the detection level where no one will ever again pass a drug test?

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4. gwern on May 1, 2010 8:22 AM writes...

I don't know why anyone is surprised by this; even as a layman, I've always wondered 'if the body doesn't make or use morphine, then why on earth does morphine do anything, given the combinatorial explosion in how many chemicals and receptor shapes there are?'

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5. Irvine Welsh on March 27, 2013 5:28 AM writes...

I wonder if the trace amounts of morphine in human urine could be down to dairy consumption. I do sometimes crave yoghurt... DOI: 10.1126/science.6267691

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