The succession of events that lead to an opioid overdose and death are complex. Opioid overdose starts with opioid abuse and subsequent loss of consciousness. Opioids induce shallow and slow breathing which eventually lead to respiratory arrest.
Failure to arouse due to the sedative effects of opioids and hypoxemia, then lead to irreversible cardiovascular and brain death.
Our research aims at identifying the neural mechanisms regulating respiratory depression, analgesia, and sedation by opioid drugs. By studying the neural circuits and cellular mechanisms underlying the effects of opioids, we will discover new molecular targets to prevent or block the side-effects of opioids.
Our strategy is to identify molecular targets unique to respiratory depression by opioids so they can be targeted. Once a blocker of respiratory depression is identified, new opioid formulations can be designed to produce potent analgesia without the lethal side-effects of respiratory depression.