Opioid agonists are the most effective treatment for pain, but their use is limited by side effects, tolerance and fears of addiction and dependence. A major goal of opioid research is to develop agonists that have high analgesic efficacy and a low profile for side effects, tolerance, addiction and dependence. Unfortunately, there is a serious lack of experimental data comparing the degree to which different opioids produce these effects in humans. In contrast, a wide range of experimental techniques from heterologous expression systems to behaviour assessment in whole animals have been developed to study these problems. The objective of this review is to describe and evaluate these techniques as they are used to study opioid efficacy, tolerance, addiction and dependence.
LINKED ARTICLES This article is part of a themed issue on Translational Neuropharmacology. To view the other articles in this issue visit http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/bph.2011.164.issue-4