The development of tolerance to and dependence on opioid analgesics greatly reduces their long-term usefulness. Previous studies have demonstrated that co-administration of a mu opioid receptor (MOR) agonist and delta opioid receptor (DOR) antagonist can decrease MOR agonist induced tolerance and dependence development after chronic exposure. Clinically, a single ligand displaying multiple efficacies (e.g. MOR agonism concurrently with DOR antagonism) would be of increased value over two drugs administered simultaneously. Guided by modeling of receptor-ligand complexes we have developed a series of potent non-selective opioid tetrapeptides that have differing efficacy at MOR and DOR. In particular, our lead peptide (KSK-103) binds with equal affinity to MOR and DOR but acts as a MOR agonist with similar efficacy but greater potency than morphine and a DOR antagonist in cellular assays measuring both G protein stimulation and adenylyl cyclase inhibition.
Opioid receptor selective antagonists are important pharmacological probes in opioid receptor structural characterization and opioid agonist functional study. Thus far, a nonpeptidyl, highly selective and reversible μ opioid receptor (MOR) antagonist is unavailable. On the basis of our modeling studies, a series of novel naltrexamine derivatives have been designed and synthesized. Among them, two compounds were identified as leads based on the results of in vitro and in vivo assays. Both of them displayed high binding affinity for the MOR (Ki = 0.37 and 0.55 nM). Compound 6 (NAP) showed over 700-fold selectivity for the MOR over the δ receptor (DOR) and more than 150-fold selectivity over the κ receptor (KOR). Compound 9 (NAQ) showed over 200-fold selectivity for the MOR over the DOR and approximately 50-fold selectivity over the KOR. Thus these two novel ligands will serve as leads to further develop more potent and selective antagonists for the MOR.
An alanine scan was performed on the novel kappa opioid receptor (KOR) peptide ligand CJ-15,208 to determine which residues contribute to the potent in vivo agonist activity observed for the parent peptide. These cyclic tetrapeptides were synthesized by a combination of solid phase peptide synthesis of the linear precursors, followed by cyclization in solution. Like the parent peptide, each of the analogs exhibited agonist activity and KOR antagonist activity in an antinociceptive assay in vivo. Unlike the parent peptide, the agonist activity of the potent analogs was mediated predominantly if not exclusively by mu opioid receptors (MOR). Thus analogs 2 and 4, in which one of the phenylalanine residues was replaced by alanine, exhibited both potent MOR agonist activity and KOR antagonist activity in vivo. These peptides represent novel lead compounds for the development of peptide-based opioid analgesics.
analgesics; kappa opioid receptor antagonists; peptides; structure-activity relationships
This study presents a direct comparison of the ligand binding and signaling profiles of a mammalian and non-mammalian mu opioid receptor. Opioid ligand binding and agonist potencies were determined for an amphibian (Rana pipiens) mu opioid receptor (rpMOR) and the human mu opioid receptor (hMOR) in transfected, intact Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells. Identical conditions were employed such that statistically meaningful differences between the two receptors could be determined. Identifying these differences is an important first step in understanding how evolutionary changes affect ligand binding and signaling in vertebrate opioid receptors. As expected, the rank of opioid ligand affinity for rpMOR and hMOR were consistent with the ligands’ previously characterized type-selectivity. However, most of the opioid ligands tested had significant differences in affinity for rpMOR and hMOR. For example, the mu-selective agonist, DAMGO ([D-Ala2, N-Me-Phe4, Gly5-ol]-enkephalin), had a 10.9-fold greater affinity for hMOR (Ki = 268 nM) than rpMOR (Ki = 2,914 nM). In addition, differences in signaling between these receptors were found by measuring inhibition of cAMP accumulation by morphine or DAMGO. DAMGO was significantly more potent (13.6-fold) in CHO cells expressing hMOR versus those expressing rpMOR. In addition, a significantly greater maximal inhibition was elicited by both opioid agonists in cells expressing hMOR. In summary, this study supports an ongoing effort to better understand how vertebrate evolution has shaped opioid receptor properties and function.
opioid; mu opioid receptor; amphibian; ligand binding; cAMP inhibition
6β-Naltrexol is the major metabolite of the opioid receptor antagonist, naltrexone, in humans. However, there are no functional studies of 6β-naltrexol in primates. The aim of this study was to compare the in vitro and in vivo potencies of naltrexone and 6β-naltrexol in rhesus monkeys. Affinity and potency were determined using radioligand displacement and stimulation of 5′-O-(3-[35S]thio)triphosphate ([35S]GTPγS) binding in monkey brain membranes. In vivo apparent pA2 analysis was applied to compare the μ-opioid receptor (MOR) antagonist potency of both compounds in nondependent monkeys. In addition, the potencies of both compounds were determined in precipitating withdrawal manifested by increased respiratory parameters in acute morphine-dependent monkeys. In vitro assays revealed that naltrexone displayed 2-fold higher affinity and potency than 6β-naltrexol for the MOR binding site and for MOR agonist-stimulated [35S]GTPγS binding, respectively. 6β-Naltrexol (0.32–3.2 mg/kg) dose-dependently produced parallel rightward shifts of the dose-response curve of alfentanil-induced antinociception. Nevertheless, the apparent pA2 value of 6β-naltrexol (6.5) was 100-fold less potent than that of naltrexone (8.5) determined previously. 6β-Naltrexol was also less potent than naltrexone in antagonizing other MOR-mediated effects including respiratory depression and itch/scratching. Naltrexone (0.0032–0.032 mg/kg) and 6β-naltrexol (0.32–3.2 mg/kg) retained the same potency difference in precipitating withdrawal to a similar degree. Furthermore, 6β-naltrexol failed to block naltrexone-precipitated withdrawal in morphine-dependent monkeys. These results indicate that naltrexone and 6β-naltrexol display similar pharmacological actions with a large in vivo potency difference in monkeys such that 6β-naltrexol may play a minimal role in the therapeutic or antagonist effects of naltrexone in primates.
While humans and most animals respond to µ-opioid receptor (MOR) agonists with analgesia and decreased aggression, in the naked mole rat (NMR) opioids induce hyperalgesia and severe aggression. Single nucleotide polymorphisms in the human mu-opioid receptor gene (OPRM1) can underlie altered behavioral responses to opioids. Therefore, we hypothesized that the primary structure of the NMR MOR may differ from other species. Sequencing of the NMR oprm1 revealed strong homology to other mammals, but exposed three unique amino acids that might affect receptor-ligand interactions. The NMR and rat oprm1 sequences were cloned into mammalian expression vectors and transfected into HEK293 cells. Radioligand binding and 3'-5'-cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) enzyme immunoassays were used to compare opioid binding and opioid-mediated cAMP inhibition. At normalized opioid receptor protein levels we detected significantly lower [3H]DAMGO binding to NMR compared to rat MOR, but no significant difference in DAMGO-induced cAMP inhibition. Strong DAMGO-induced MOR internalization was detectable using radioligand binding and confocal imaging in HEK293 cells expressing rat or NMR receptor, while morphine showed weak or no effects. In summary, we found minor functional differences between rat and NMR MOR suggesting that other differences e.g. in anatomical distribution of MOR underlie the NMR's extreme reaction to opioids.
Ultra-low-dose opioid antagonists enhance opioid analgesia and reduce analgesic tolerance and dependence by preventing a G protein coupling switch (Gi/o to Gs) by the mu opioid receptor (MOR), although the binding site of such ultra-low-dose opioid antagonists was previously unknown. Here we show that with approximately 200-fold higher affinity than for the mu opioid receptor, naloxone binds a pentapeptide segment of the scaffolding protein filamin A, known to interact with the mu opioid receptor, to disrupt its chronic opioid-induced Gs coupling. Naloxone binding to filamin A is demonstrated by the absence of [3H]-and FITC-naloxone binding in the melanoma M2 cell line that does not contain filamin or MOR, contrasting with strong [3H]naloxone binding to its filamin A-transfected subclone A7 or to immunopurified filamin A. Naloxone binding to A7 cells was displaced by naltrexone but not by morphine, indicating a target distinct from opioid receptors and perhaps unique to naloxone and its analogs. The intracellular location of this binding site was confirmed by FITC-NLX binding in intact A7 cells. Overlapping peptide fragments from c-terminal filamin A revealed filamin A2561-2565 as the binding site, and an alanine scan of this pentapeptide revealed an essential mid-point lysine. Finally, in organotypic striatal slice cultures, peptide fragments containing filamin A2561-2565 abolished the prevention by 10 pM naloxone of both the chronic morphine-induced mu opioid receptor–Gs coupling and the downstream cAMP excitatory signal. These results establish filamin A as the target for ultra-low-dose opioid antagonists previously shown to enhance opioid analgesia and to prevent opioid tolerance and dependence.
Opioids are the most widely used analgesics for the treatment of clinical pain. They produce their therapeutic effects by binding to μ-opioid receptors (MORs), which are 7 transmembrane domain (7TM) G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), and inhibiting cellular activity. However, the analgesic efficacy of opioids is compromised by side-effects such as analgesic tolerance, dependence and opioid-induced hyperalgesia (OIH). In contrast to opioid analgesia these side effects are associated with cellular excitation. Several hypotheses have been advanced to explain these phenomena, yet the molecular mechanisms underlying tolerance and OIH remain poorly understood.
We recently discovered a new human alternatively spliced isoform of MOR (MOR1K) that is missing the N-terminal extracellular and first transmembrane domains, resulting in a 6TM GPCR variant. To characterize the pattern of cellular transduction pathways activated by this human MOR1K isoform, we conducted a series of pharmacological and molecular experiments. Results show that stimulation of MOR1K with morphine leads to excitatory cellular effects. In contrast to stimulation of MOR1, stimulation of MOR1K leads to increased Ca2+ levels as well as increased nitric oxide (NO) release. Immunoprecipitation experiments further reveal that unlike MOR1, which couples to the inhibitory Gαi/o complex, MOR1K couples to the stimulatory Gαs complex.
The major MOR1 and the alternative MOR1K isoforms mediate opposite cellular effects in response to morphine, with MOR1K driving excitatory processes. These findings warrant further investigations that examine animal and human MORK1 expression and function following chronic exposure to opioids, which may identify MOR1K as a novel target for the development of new clinically effective classes of opioids that have high analgesic efficacy with diminished ability to produce tolerance, OIH, and other unwanted side-effects.
This review summarizes the work from our laboratory investigating mechanisms of opioid analgesia using the Northern grass frog, Rana pipiens. Over the last dozen years, we have accumulated data on the characterization of behavioral effects after opioid administration on radioligand binding by using opioid agonist and antagonist ligands in amphibian brain and spinal cord homogenates, and by cloning and sequencing opioid-like receptor cDNA from amphibian central nervous system (CNS) tissues. The relative analgesic potency of mu, delta, and kappa opioids is highly correlated between frogs and other mammals, including humans. Radioligand binding studies using selective opioid agonists show a similar selectivity profile in amphibians and mammals. In contrast, opioid antagonists that are highly selective for mammalian mu, delta, and kappa opioid receptors were not selective in behavioral and binding studies in amphibians. Three opioid-like receptor cDNAs were cloned and sequenced from amphibian brain tissues and are orthologs to mammalian mu, delta, and kappa opioid receptors. Bioinformatics analysis of the three types of opioid receptor cDNAs from all vertebrate species with full datasets gave a pattern of the molecular evolution of opioid receptors marked by the divergence of mu, delta, and kappa opioid receptor sequences during vertebrate evolution. This divergence in receptor amino acid sequence in later-evolved vertebrates underlies the hypothesis that opioid receptors are more type-selective in mammals than in nonmammalian vertebrates. The apparent order of receptor type evolution is kappa, then delta, and, most recently, the mu opioid receptor. Finally, novel bioinformatics analyses suggest that conserved extracellular receptor domains determine the type selectivity of vertebrate opioid receptors.
Bioinformatics; Analgesia; Selectivity; Domain
Mu-opioid receptors (MOR) are the therapeutic target for opiate analgesic drugs and also mediate many of the side-effects and addiction liability of these compounds. MOR is a seven-transmembrane domain receptor that couples to intracellular signaling molecules by activating heterotrimeric G proteins. However, the receptor and G protein do not function in isolation but their activities are moderated by several accessory and scaffolding proteins. One important group of accessory proteins is the regulator of G protein signaling (RGS) protein family, a large family of more than thirty members which bind to the activated Gα subunit of the heterotrimeric G protein and serve to accelerate signal termination. This action negatively modulates receptor signaling and subsequent behavior. Several members of this family, in particular RGS4 and RGS9-2 have been demonstrated to influence MOR signaling and morphine-induced behaviors, including reward. Moreover, this interaction is not unidirectional since morphine has been demonstrated to modulate expression levels of RGS proteins, especially RGS4 and RGS9-2, in a tissue and time dependent manner. In this article, I will discuss our work on the regulation of MOR signaling by RGS protein activity in cultured cell systems in the context of other in vitro and behavioral studies. In addition I will consider implications of the bi-directional interaction between MOR receptor activation and RGS protein activity and whether RGS proteins might provide a suitable and novel target for medications to manage addictive behaviors.
RGS proteins; mu-opioid receptors; G-proteins; morphine
Opioid-based narcotics are the most widely prescribed therapeutic agent for the alleviation of persistent pain; however, it is becoming increasingly clear that morphine is significantly less potent in women compared to men. Morphine primarily binds to mu opioid receptors (MOR), and the periaqueductal gray (PAG) contains a dense population of MOR-expressing neurons. Via its descending projections to the rostral ventromedial medulla and the dorsal horn of the spinal cord, the PAG is considered an essential neural substrate for opioid-based analgesia. We hypothesized that MOR expression in the PAG was sexually dimorphic, and that these sex differences contribute to the observed sex differences in morphine potency. Using immunohistochemistry, we report that males had a significantly higher expression of MOR in the ventrolateral PAG compared to cycling females, while the lowest level of expression was observed in proestrus females. CFA-induced inflammatory pain produced thermal hyperalgesia in both males and females that was significantly reversed in males with a microinjection of morphine into the ventrolateral PAG; this effect was significantly greater than that observed in proestrus and estrus females. Selective lesions of MOR-expressing neurons in the ventrolateral PAG resulted in a significant reduction in the effects of systemic morphine in males only, and this reduction was positively correlated with the level of MOR expression in the ventrolateral PAG. Together, these results provide a mechanism for sex differences in morphine potency.
dermorphin-saporin; intra-vlPAG; estrous cycle; pain; inflammation; opiate
Opioid receptors, including the mu and delta opioid receptors (MOR and DOR) are important targets for the treatment of pain. Although there is mounting evidence that these receptors form heteromers, the functional role of the MOR/DOR heteromer remains unresolved. We have designed and synthesized bivalent ligands as tools to elucidate the functional role of the MOR/DOR heteromer. Our ligands (L2 and L4) are comprised of a compound with low affinity at the DOR tethered to a compound with high affinity at the MOR, with the goal of producing ligands with “tuned affinity” at MOR/DOR heteromers compared to DOR homomers. Here we show that both L2 and L4 demonstrate enhanced affinity at MOR/DOR heteromers compared to DOR homomers, thereby providing unique pharmacological tools to dissect the role of the MOR/DOR heteromer in pain.
Bivalent ligand; opioid receptors; heteromers; chronic pain
Ligands from the naltrexamine series have consistently demonstrated agonist activity at kappa opioid receptors (KOR), with varying activity at the mu opioid receptor (MOR). Various 6β-cinnamoylamino derivatives were made with the aim of generating ligands with a KOR agonist/MOR partial agonist profile, as ligands with this activity may be of interest as treatment agents for cocaine abuse. The ligands all displayed the desired high affinity, non-selective binding in vitro and in the functional assays were high efficacy KOR agonists with some partial agonist activity at MOR. Two of the new ligands (12a, 12b) have been evaluated in vivo, with 12a acting as a KOR agonist, and therefore somewhat similar to the previously evaluated analogues 3–6, while 12b displayed predominant MOR agonist activity.
Peripheral selective mu opioid receptor (MOR) antagonists could alleviate the symptoms of opioid-induced constipation (OIC) without compromising the analgesic effect of opioids. However, a variety of adverse effects were associated with them, partially due to their relatively low MOR selectivity. NAP, a 6β-N-4'-pyridyl substituted naltrexamine derivative, was identified previously as a potent and highly selective MOR antagonist mainly acting within the peripheral nervous system. The noticeable diarrhea associated with it prompted the design and synthesis of its analogues in order to study its structure activity relationship. Among them, compound 8 showed improved pharmacological profiles compared to the original lead, acting mainly at peripheral while increasing the intestinal motility in morphine-pelleted mice (ED50=0.03 mg/kg). The slight decrease of the ED50 compared to the original lead was well compensated by the unobserved adverse effect. Hence, this compound seems to be a more promising lead to develop novel therapeutic agents toward OIC.
peripheral selective MOR antagonist; GI transit; NAP; NMP
In combining fluorescence measurements with ligand binding assays, the versatility of the EGFP C-terminally fused to the human mu opioid receptor (EGFP-hMOR) has been exploited to notably improve the expression level of functional G protein-coupled receptors in Drosophila S2 cells. A selected array of efficient optimization approaches is presented herein, ranging from a cell-sorting method, allowing for a substantial enrichment in EGFP-hMOR expressing cells, to the addition of chemical and pharmacological chaperones, significantly enhancing the yield and the activity of the expressed receptors. Consistent with previous studies, significant discrepancies were observed between the total amounts of fluorescent receptors over a limited subpopulation capable of ligand binding, even after expression optimization. Subsequently, membrane isopycnic centrifugation experiments allowed to separate the ligand binding active from the non-active membrane fraction, the latter most probably containing misfolded receptors. Taken together, these results illustrate a coherent set of advantageous productive and preparative methods for the production of GPCRs in the highly valuable Drosophila S2 expression system.
Drosophila S2 cells; Fluorescence; G protein-coupled receptor; Heterologous expression; Human mu opioid receptor; Isopycnic centrifugation; Ligand binding; Optimization
The mu-opioid receptor (MOR) is the G-protein coupled receptor primarily responsible for mediating the analgesic and rewarding properties of opioid agonist drugs such as morphine, fentanyl, and heroin. We have utilized a combination of traditional and modified membrane yeast two-hybrid screening methods to identify a cohort of novel MOR interacting proteins (MORIPs). The interaction between the MOR and a subset of MORIPs was validated in pulldown, co-immunoprecipitation, and co-localization studies using HEK293 cells stably expressing the MOR as well as rodent brain. Additionally, a subset of MORIPs was found capable of interaction with the delta and kappa opioid receptors, suggesting that they may represent general opioid receptor interacting proteins (ORIPS). Expression of several MORIPs was altered in specific mouse brain regions after chronic treatment with morphine, suggesting that these proteins may play a role in response to opioid agonist drugs. Based on the known function of these newly identified MORIPs, the interactions forming the MOR signalplex are hypothesized to be important for MOR signaling and intracellular trafficking. Understanding the molecular complexity of MOR/MORIP interactions provides a conceptual framework for defining the cellular mechanisms of MOR signaling in brain and may be critical for determining the physiological basis of opioid tolerance and addiction.
The signaling molecule RGS9-2 is a potent modulator of G-protein-coupled receptor function in striatum. Our earlier work revealed a critical role for RGS9-2 in the actions of the μ-opioid receptor (MOR) agonist morphine. In this study, we demonstrate that RGS9-2 may act as a positive or negative modulator of MOR-mediated behavioral responses in mice depending on the agonist administered. Paralleling these findings we use coimmunoprecipitation assays to show that the signaling complexes formed between RGS9-2 and Gα subunits in striatum are determined by the MOR agonist, and we identify RGS9-2 containing complexes associated with analgesic tolerance. In striatum, MOR activation promotes the formation of complexes between RGS9-2 and several Gα subunits, but morphine uniquely promotes an association between RGS9-2 and Gαi3. In contrast, RGS9-2/Gαq complexes assemble after acute application of several MOR agonists but not after morphine application. Repeated morphine administration leads to the formation of distinct complexes, which contain RGS9-2, Gβ5, and Gαq. Finally, we use simple pharmacological manipulations to disrupt RGS9-2 complexes formed during repeated MOR activation to delay the development of analgesic tolerance to morphine. Our data provide a better understanding of the brain-region-specific signaling events associated with opiate analgesia and tolerance and point to pharmacological approaches that can be readily tested for improving chronic analgesic responsiveness.
The capacity of opioids to alleviate inflammatory pain is negatively regulated by the glutamate-binding N-methyl--aspartate receptor (NMDAR). Increased activity of this receptor complicates the clinical use of opioids to treat persistent neuropathic pain. Immunohistochemical and ultrastructural studies have demonstrated the coexistence of both receptors within single neurons of the CNS, including those in the mesencephalic periaqueductal gray (PAG), a region that is implicated in the opioid control of nociception. We now report that mu-opioid receptors (MOR) and NMDAR NR1 subunits associate in the postsynaptic structures of PAG neurons. Morphine disrupts this complex by protein kinase-C (PKC)-mediated phosphorylation of the NR1 C1 segment and potentiates the NMDAR–CaMKII, pathway that is implicated in morphine tolerance. Inhibition of PKC, but not PKA or GRK2, restored the MOR–NR1 association and rescued the analgesic effect of morphine as well. The administration of N-methyl--aspartic acid separated the MOR–NR1 complex, increased MOR Ser phosphorylation, reduced the association of the MOR with G-proteins, and diminished the antinociceptive capacity of morphine. Inhibition of PKA, but not PKC, CaMKII, or GRK2, blocked these effects and preserved morphine antinociception. Thus, the opposing activities of the MOR and NMDAR in pain control affect their relation within neurons of structures such as the PAG. This finding could be exploited in developing bifunctional drugs that would act exclusively on those NMDARs associated with MORs.
mu-opioid receptor; N-methyl--aspartate receptor; periaqueductal gray; pain; analgesia; receptor association; signal transduction; glutamate; pain/analgesics; opioids; mu-opioid receptor; periaqueductal gray; NMDA; receptor association; mouse
We have identified compound 1 as a novel ligand for opioid and melanocortin (MC) receptors, which is derived from the overlapping of a well known structure for the δ opioid receptor, 2,6-dimethyltyrosine (Dmt)-1,2,3,4-tetrahydroisoquinoline-3-carboxylic acid (Tic), and a small molecule for the MC receptor, Tic-DPhe(p-Cl)-piperidin-4-yl-N-phenyl-propionamide. Ligand 1 showed that there is an overlapping pharmacophore between opioid and MC receptors through the Tic residue. The ligand displayed high biological activities at the δ opioid receptor (Ki = 0.38 nM in binding assay, EC50 = 0.48 nM in GTP-γ-S binding assay, IC50 = 74 nM in MVD) as an agonist instead of an antagonist and showed selective binding affinity (IC50 = 2.3 μM) at the MC-3 receptor rather than at the MC-5 receptor. A study of the structure-activity relationships demonstrated that the residues in positions 2, 3, and the C-terminus act as a pharmacophore for the MC receptors, and the residues in positions 1 and 2 act as a pharmacophore for the opioid receptors. Thus, this structural construct can be used to prepare chimeric structures with adjacent or overlapping pharmacophores for opioid and MC receptors.
opioid receptor; melanocortin receptor; anti-opioid effect; multi-target drug; overlapping pharmacophores; antinociception; side effect; Dmt-Tic; fentanyl
Development of new opioid drugs that provide analgesia without producing dependence is important for pain treatment. Opioid agonist drugs exert their analgesia effects primarily by acting at the mu opioid receptor (MOR) sites. High-resolution differentiation of opioid ligands is crucial for the development of new lead drug candidates with better tolerance profiles. Here, we use a label-free integrative pharmacology on-target (iPOT) approach to characterize the functional selectivity of a library of known opioid ligands for the MOR. This approach is based on the ability to detect dynamic mass redistribution (DMR) arising from the activation of the MOR in living cells. DMR assays were performed in HEK-MOR cells with and without preconditioning with probe molecules using label-free resonant waveguide grating biosensors, wherein the probe molecules were used to modify the activity of specific signaling proteins downstream the MOR. DMR signals obtained were then translated into high resolution heat maps using similarity analysis based on a numerical matrix of DMR parameters. Our data indicate that the iPOT approach clearly differentiates functional selectivity for distinct MOR signaling pathways among different opioid ligands, thus opening new avenues to discover and quantify the functional selectivity of currently used and novel opioid receptor drugs.
Opioid agonists produce analgesia in humans and other mammals by binding to three distinct types of G protein-coupled receptors; mu (MOR), delta (DOR), and kappa (KOR) opioid receptors. A fourth member of the opioid receptor family is the nociceptin or orphanin FQ receptor (ORL), however the role of the ORL receptor in analgesia is less clear. In the Northern grass frog, Rana pipiens, systemic and central administration of morphine and selective MOR, DOR, and KOR agonists produced dose-dependent antinociceptive effects blocked by the general opioid antagonist, naltrexone. The present study reports on the sequence, expression, and bioinformatics of four opioid receptor cDNAs cloned from Rana pipiens; rpMOR, rpDOR, rpKOR, and rpORL. These were the first opioid receptors cloned from a species of Class Amphibia, are selectively expressed in brain tissue, and show 70–84% identity to their homologous mammalian opioid receptors. Comparisons within species showed that MOR, DOR, and KOR proteins are significantly less divergent in earlier-evolved vertebrates compared to humans and other mammals. Among the four types of opioid receptors, MOR proteins show the least sequence variation among the six vertebrate species. Additionally, phylogenetic analysis supports the hypothesis that the family of opioid receptor proteins are coded by four genes that arose from two gene duplications of a single ancestral opioid receptor gene.
Opioid receptors; Analgesia; Amphibian; Cloning; Bioinformatics
Morphine is an effective analgesic that acts by binding to the μ-opioid receptor (MOR) coded in the human by the OPRM1 gene. In the present study, we investigated the regulation of μ-opioid receptor (MOR-1) mRNA levels in all-trans-retinoic acid-differentiated SH-SY5Y human neuroblastoma cells under in vitro conditions with 10 μM morphine treatment for 24 h. In addition, we measured the MOR-1 levels in recombinant Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells, transfected with human μ-opioid receptor gene (hMOR) with 10 μM morphine treatment for 24 h. The isolated mRNA from these cells was subjected to real-time quantitative RT-PCR analysis to determine the regulation of μ-opioid receptor gene expression. It was observed that morphine treatment did not alter MOR-1 levels in undifferentiated SH-SY5Y cells compared to undifferentiated control cells. However, the MOR-1 levels in all-trans-retinoic acid-differentiated cells were significantly higher compared to the undifferentiated cells. Morphine treatment in differentiated SH-SY5Y cells caused significant downregulation of MOR-1 expression compared to the control cells. In the morphine-treated CHO cells, the hMOR-1 mRNA levels remained the same as the untreated control. Finally, pretreatment of SH-SY5Y cells with 10 μM naloxone, the antagonist of μ-opioid receptor, for 1 h significantly blocked the downregulation of MOR-1 mRNA levels with morphine treatment. These findings suggest that regulation of MOR-1 gene expression is cell-type specific after chronic morphine treatment and provide some evidence in the understanding of morphine tolerance.
morphine; naloxone; μ-opioid receptor; real-time qRT-PCR
The mu opioid receptor (MOR) is the principle molecular target of opioid analgesics. The polypyrimidine/polypurine (PPy/u) motif enhances the activity of the MOR gene promoter by adopting a non-B DNA conformation. Here, we report that the PPy/u motif regulates the processivity of torsional stress, which is important for endogenous MOR gene expression. Analysis by topoisomerase assays, S1 nuclease digests, and atomic force microscopy showed that, unlike homologous PPy/u motifs, the position- and orientation-induced structural strains to the mouse PPy/u element affect its ability to perturb the relaxation activity of topoisomerase, resulting in polypurine strand-nicked and catenated DNA conformations. Raman spectrum microscopy confirmed that mouse PPy/u containing-plasmid DNA molecules under the different structural strains have a different configuration of ring bases as well as altered Hoogsteen hydrogen bonds. The mouse MOR PPy/u motif drives reporter gene expression fortyfold more effectively in the sense orientation than in the antisense orientation. Furthermore, mouse neuronal cells activate MOR gene expression in response to the perturbations of topology by topoisomerase inhibitors, whereas human cells do not. These results suggest that, interestingly among homologous PPy/u motifs, the mouse MOR PPy/u motif dynamically responds to torsional stress and consequently regulates MOR gene expression in vivo.
Gene expression; Homologous PPy/u motifs; Mu opioid receptor; Supercoiling-regulatory element; Topoisomerase Running head; Structural/functional characteristics of MOR PPy/u motifs
Delta (DOR) and mu opioid receptors (MOR) can complex as heteromers, conferring functional properties in agonist binding, signaling and trafficking that can differ markedly from their homomeric counterparts. Because of these differences, DOR/MOR heteromers may be a novel therapeutic target in the treatment of pain. However, there are currently no ligands selective for DOR/MOR heteromers, and, consequently, their role in nociception remains unknown. In this study, we used a pharmacological opioid cocktail that selectively activates and stabilizes the DOR/MOR heteromer at the cell surface by blocking its endocytosis to assess its role in antinociception. We found that mice treated chronically with this drug cocktail showed a significant right shift in the ED50 for opioid-mediated analgesia, while mice treated with a drug that promotes degradation of the heteromer did not. Furthermore, promoting degradation of the DOR/MOR heteromer after the right shift in the ED50 had occurred, or blocking signal transduction from the stabilized DOR/MOR heteromer, shifted the ED50 for analgesia back to the left. Taken together, these data suggest an anti-analgesic role for the DOR/MOR heteromer in pain. In conclusion, antagonists selective for DOR/MOR heteromer could provide an avenue for alleviating reduced analgesic response during chronic pain treatment.
Mu opioid receptors (MORs) are G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) that mediate the physiological effects of endogenous opioid neuropeptides and opiate drugs such as morphine. MORs are co-expressed with neurokinin 1 receptors (NK1Rs) in several regions of the central nervous system (CNS) that control opioid dependence and reward. NK1R activation affects opioid reward specifically, however, and the cellular basis for this specificity is unknown. We found that ligand-induced activation of NK1Rs produces a cell autonomous and non-reciprocal inhibition of MOR endocytosis induced by diverse opioids. Studies using epitope-tagged receptors expressed in cultured striatal neurons and a neuroblastoma cell model indicated that this heterologous regulation is mediated by NK1R-dependent sequestration of arrestins on endosome membranes. First, endocytic inhibition mediated by wild type NK1Rs was overcome in cells over-expressing β-arrestin2, a major arrestin isoform expressed in striatum. Second, NK1R activation promoted sequestration of β-arrestin2 on endosomes, whereas MOR activation did not. Third, heterologous inhibition of MOR endocytosis was prevented by mutational disruption of β-arrestin2 sequestration by NK1Rs. NK1R-mediated regulation of MOR trafficking was associated with reduced opioid-induced desensitization of adenylyl cyclase signaling in striatal neurons. Further, heterologous regulation of MOR trafficking was observed in both amygdala and locus coeruleus neurons that naturally co-express these receptors. These results identify a cell autonomous mechanism that may underlie the highly specific effects of NK1R on opioid signaling and suggest, more generally, that receptor-specific trafficking of arrestins may represent a fundamental mechanism for coordinating distinct GPCR-mediated signals at the level of individual CNS neurons.
trafficking; opioid; arrestin; morphine; endocytosis; neurokinin