The discovery of how salvia acts on the brain could lead to new avenues for treating drug addiction, chronic pain, and depression. According to Futurity.org, at the molecular level, drugs like salvia work by activating specific proteins, known as receptors, in the human brain and body. It is unusual that salvia acts on only one receptor in the brain, known as the kappa opioid receptor(KOR). Scientists know of four distinct opiate receptors, but until now the structure of the KOR and how it interacts with drugs was a mystery. Beth Roth, professor of pharmacology at UNC, said, “Once we see the structure of the receptor, it becomes easier for us to develop drugs that target the receptor in ways that might be beneficial for medical therapy. Drugs that block this receptor are potentially useful for treating a number of serious illnesses including chronic pain, cocaine addiction, and other diseases.”
The KOR is responsible for the action of drugs that affects human consciousness, awareness of pain and mood. Salvia is the only thing that binds to this receptor, that we know of. This finding could help scientists design medicines that either activate or block KOR to benefit patients. The research also resolves a long standing debate about how drugs bind to this receptor. Compared to other receptors, the binding site of KOR is huge, allowing drugs to bind to it in more than one way. This research could also help scientists develop drugs that activate KOR in the body without affecting the brain, which could be useful in treating a number of illnesses.
Image courtesy of C. Hazlett/Wikipedia Commons.