The pinwheel flower, a plant used in traditional Chinese medicine, could help provide a solution to those suffering from chronic pain, according to new research.
Building on earlier findings, scientists from the Immuno-Pharmacology and Interactomics group at the Department of Infection and Immunity of the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH), in collaboration with the Center for Drug Discovery at RTI International (RTI), a non-profit research institute, discovered that compounds found in the flower provide natural pain relief.
They demonstrated that conolidine, a natural painkiller derived from the plant, interacts with a receptor that regulates opioid peptides naturally produced in the brain.
Dr Andy Chevigne, the Head of Immuno-Pharmacology and Interactomics at LIH, said the discovery could provide new ways of relieving pain that could stop people resorting to dangerous opioid drugs.
"Our findings could also mean that conolidine, and potentially also its synthetic analogues, could carry new hope for the treatment of chronic pain and depression, particularly given the fact that conolidine was reported to trigger fewer of the detrimental side-effects - namely addiction, tolerance and respiratory problems - associated with commonly used opioid drugs like morphine and fentanyl," he said.
The findings, which were published on Thursday in the international journal Signal Transduction and Targeted Therapy, further advance the understanding of the body's pain regulation systems.
Opioid peptides are small proteins that mediate pain relief and emotions, including euphoria, anxiety, stress and depression, which interact with five receptors in the brain. The newly discovered compound functions by trapping secreted opioids and preventing them from binding to receptors, reducing pain.