The reasons which led to the search in the brain for substances with morphine-like actions are discussed. Two pentapeptides, methionine-enkephalin and leucine-enkephalin, were isolated. The amino acid sequence of methionine-enkephalin occurs also in the pituitary prohormone β-lipotropin, of which longer fragments (endorphins) of up to 31 amino acids exhibit strong morphine-like action.
The physiological significance of these short and long opioid peptides is discussed, particularly with regard to their possible roles as neurotransmitter or neuromodulator.
With regard to the mechanisms involved in the development of tolerance to and dependence on opiates, the importance of interaction between the endogenous opioid peptides and the exogenous opiate alkaloids is stressed.
The possible therapeutic implications are discussed briefly.