Salvinorin A, the most potent naturally occurring hallucinogen, has attracted an increasing amount of attention since the κ-opioid receptor (KOR) was identified as its principal molecular target by us [Roth, B. L., et al. (2002) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 99, 11934-11939]. Here we report the design, synthesis, and biochemical characterization of novel, irreversible, salvinorin A-derived ligands suitable as active state probes of the KOR. On the basis of prior substituted cysteine accessibility and molecular modeling studies, C3157.38 was chosen as a potential anchoring point for covalent labeling of salvinorin A-derived ligands. Automated docking of a series of potential covalently bound ligands suggested that either a haloacetate moiety or other similar electrophilic groups could irreversibly bind with C3157.38. 22-Thiocyanatosalvinorin A (RB-64) and 22-chlorosalvinorin A (RB-48) were both found to be extraordinarily potent and selective KOR agonists in vitro and in vivo. As predicted on the basis of molecular modeling studies, RB-64 induced wash-resistant inhibition of binding with a strict requirement for a free cysteine in or near the binding pocket. Mass spectrometry (MS) studies utilizing synthetic KOR peptides and RB-64 supported the hypothesis that the anchoring residue was C3157.38 and suggested one biochemical mechanism for covalent binding. These studies provide direct evidence of the presence of a free cysteine in the agonist-bound state of the KOR and provide novel insights into the mechanism by which salvinorin A binds to and activates the KOR.
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