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What is a Dynorphin?

By M. Haskins
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A dynorphin is a type of chemical substance called an opioid peptide that is produced naturally by the human body and affects the function of the brain, as well as the nervous system. Dynorphin's effects on the body are similar to that of natural and synthetic opiates, such as opium, morphine and methadone, and it is sometimes referred to as a brain opiate. There are various types of dynorphin, such as dynorphin A and dynorphin B, but they are all involved in regulating basic physical functions such as appetite, emotion, motivation, how one responds to stress and how one experiences pain. Dynorphins are very potent even in small amounts, and scientific studies suggest that the painkilling effect of a dynorphin is at least six times that of morphine. Current research is studying the effects of dynorphins on various conditions such as neuropathic pain, depression, stress, drug addiction and overeating.

The production of dynorphins takes place mainly in the hypothalamus, the hippocampus and the spinal cord. The hypothalamus and hippocampus are part of the brain itself, and have important effects on both the central and autonomic nervous systems. The spinal cord is part of the central nervous system and extends from the brain, through the spine, connecting the brain to the rest of the body. Dynorphins produced and released by the brain and the spinal cord regulate and influence vital body functions such as body temperature, long-term memory, hunger, thirst, sleep and the processing of sensory information.

Dynorphins are one of three types of opioid peptides produced by the body. The other two are endorphins, which is actually a group of substances that includes beta-endorphin and gamma-endorphin, and enkephalins. Endorphins and enkephalins provide pain relief as well as producing a feeling of euphoria, for example during exercise, sex and excitement. Research indicates that dynorphins are different from the other opioid peptides. Under certain circumstances, dynorphins can stimulate pain instead of relieving it and are also linked to depression rather than euphoria.

Scientific studies suggest that the pain experienced after a spinal cord injury can be related to increased levels of dynorphins. Other studies show that blocking dynorphin, and thereby inhibiting its effect on the brain and nervous system, can reduce depression and stress. High levels of dynorphins have been linked to a diverse range of behaviors and body functions such as an increased resistance to cocaine addiction, overeating and hyperthermia, a condition where the body fails to regulate its temperature, resulting in overheating.

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Discussion Comments

By anon346595 — On Aug 29, 2013

Does anyone know the lifetime of the peptide in the extracellular space after release (also time needed for clearing) and the time of binding/unbinding to KAR?

By anon280796 — On Jul 20, 2012

@indemnifyme: You're completely right. I don't understand it neither. If Dynorphin inhibits the dopamine production, how can it create euphoria or an other sense of well being?

By sunnySkys — On Feb 18, 2012

You know, I've actually heard of dynorphins in the context of cocaine addiction. People always talk about how when you're addicted to drugs (especially cocaine) you start needing more and more of the drug to get high. Then, finally, you need a ton of it just to function normally.

Well, cocaine users actually have dynorphin to thank for that! From what I remember, dynorphin actually prevents dopamin release by binding to a certain set of receptors. The dopamine release is what produces the high. So if that's not happening, then you're just not going to experience the same "high" you did the first few times you used the drug.

By starrynight — On Feb 17, 2012

@indemnifyme - Yeah, I guess that's just the way the dynorphins work.

I'm actually interested in just how many different thing dynorphins actually effect. It seems to be a pretty long list: appetite, emotion, stress, and pain. And yet somehow I've never heard of this substance! Everyone always talks about endorphins, but I yet to hear anyone talk about dynorphins.

But maybe it will be the next big thing, since it is different than other opioids found in the body.

By indemnifyme — On Feb 16, 2012

Dynorphin sounds a bit confusing to me. It's six times as strong as morphine is when it comes to killing pain, but increased levels can actually cause pain after a spinal cord injury? On the surface, this doesn't really seem like it should be the case.

I guess maybe you have to have the right amount of dynorphin in your system to experience its positive effects? I know there are a few other substances in the body that do something good when present in the right amount but are harmful when there is too much.

It still seems weird that too much dynorphin would have the opposite effect though.

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