Researchers in Germany have found solid evidence that human cells can generate morphine. Their findings, reported this week in PNAS, may help resolve years of debate.

"If this morphine [that] humans produce interacts with opiate receptors in the body, this could open up a whole new era for understanding the pharmacological modulation of pain, of immune response, and of behavior," author Meinhart Zenk of Martin Luther University in Halle, Germany, told The Scientist.

George Stefano, director of the Old Westbury Neuroscience Institute in New York and a leading proponent of endogenous morphine's debated existence, said the study, which he did not participate in, confirms nearly 30 years of theories. In 2003, his group cloned an opiate receptor from human tissues, mu3, that only reacts with morphine and is found in immune, vascular, and neural tissues.

"This could demonstrate how endogenous morphine may work," Stefano told The Scientist...

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