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A relative of nicotine eases pain.

Physicians regularly lament the paucity of choices when it comes to painkillers. For the most part, they can turn only to aspirin and similar nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents or to the much more potent morphine and its opiate relatives, which are addictive and often produce dangerous side effects.

In the Jan. 2 Science, researchers from Abbott Laboratories in Abbott Park, Ill., describe tests of a compound structurally related to nicotine that may rival morphine's potency, yet offer less risk of side effects and addiction.

Since the 1930s, scientists have known that nicotine can thwart pain. "Nicotine is a good analgesic. Unfortunately, it's too toxic to be used routinely," notes Richard A. Glennon of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Moreover, until recently, no known analogs of nicotine had proved nearly as potent as the original compound.

Several years ago, a research team led by John Daly of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases in Bethesda, Md., found that the frog skin toxin epibatidine, an analgesic hundreds of time more potent than morphine (SN: 7/18/92, p. 40), has a structure similar to that of nicotine and works by binding to the same cell surface proteins as nicotine. The compound proved too toxic to use, however.

Nonetheless, epibatidine inspired the investigators at Abbott to explore whether some of the nicotine analogs being developed by the company for other medical purposes might equal the frog toxin's analgesic prowess--but not its toxicity. Stephen P. Arneric and his colleagues now report that a compound called ABT-594 matches morphine's ability to dull the pain experienced by rats subjected to acute heat, toxic chemicals, or nerve injuries.

Furthermore, despite its potency, ABT-594 does not produce any of the side effects often triggered by the opiates. Nor does ABT-594 seem to be addictive, even though nicotine itself can be highly addictive. Abbott is conducting initial human safety trials of ABT-594 in Europe and plans to continue to explore nicotine analogs.

"These compounds represent a new class of analgesics with a lot of potential," says Glennon, who has also been investigating nicotine analogs for many years.
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Title Annotation:the compound ABT-594 eases pain as well as morphine without being addictive
Author:Travis, John
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jan 24, 1998
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