Research Article

Opioid peptides and primary biliary cirrhosis.

BMJ 1988; 297 doi: (Published 10 December 1988) Cite this as: BMJ 1988;297:1501
  1. J. R. Thornton,
  2. M. S. Losowsky
  1. Department of Medicine, St James's University Hospital, Leeds.


    Patients with liver disease have increased plasma concentrations of the endogenous opioid peptides methionine enkephalin and leucine enkephalin. As an initial investigation to determine whether opioid peptides contribute to any of the clinical manifestations of hepatic disease nalmefene, a specific opioid antagonist devoid of agonist activity, was given to 11 patients with cirrhosis. They all experienced a severe opioid withdrawal reaction on starting the drug. In the nine patients with primary biliary cirrhosis pruritus was greatly alleviated, fatigue seemed to improve, and plasma bilirubin concentration, which had been rising, showed a modest fall in all except one patient. These results indicate that blocking opioid receptors has an effect on some of the metabolic abnormalities of liver disease.