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1.  Structural basis for mu-opioid receptor binding and activation 
Structure (London, England : 1993)  2011;19(11):1683-1690.
Opioids that stimulate the μ-opioid receptor (MOR1) are the most frequently prescribed and effective analgesics. Here we present a structural model of MOR1. Molecular dynamics simulations show a ligand-dependent increase in the conformational flexibility of the third intracellular loop that couples with the G-protein complex. These simulations likewise identified residues that form frequent contacts with ligands. We validated the binding residues using site-directed mutagenesis coupled with radioligand binding and functional assays. The model was used to blindly screen a library of ~1.2 million compounds. From the thirty-four compounds predicted to be strong binders, the top three candidates were examined using biochemical assays. One compound showed high efficacy and potency. Post hoc testing revealed this compound to be nalmefene, a potent clinically used antagonist, thus further validating the model. In summary, the MOR1 model provides a tool for elucidating the structural mechanism of ligand-initiated cell signaling and screening for novel analgesics.
PMCID: PMC3217204  PMID: 22078567
2.  A novel alternatively spliced isoform of the mu-opioid receptor: functional antagonism 
Molecular Pain  2010;6:33.
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.
PMCID: PMC2894766  PMID: 20525224
3.  Expansion of the human μ-opioid receptor gene architecture: novel functional variants 
Human Molecular Genetics  2008;18(6):1037-1051.
The μ-opioid receptor (OPRM1) is the principal receptor target for both endogenous and exogenous opioid analgesics. There are substantial individual differences in human responses to painful stimuli and to opiate drugs that are attributed to genetic variations in OPRM1. In searching for new functional variants, we employed comparative genome analysis and obtained evidence for the existence of an expanded human OPRM1 gene locus with new promoters, alternative exons and regulatory elements. Examination of polymorphisms within the human OPRM1 gene locus identified strong association between single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) rs563649 and individual variations in pain perception. SNP rs563649 is located within a structurally conserved internal ribosome entry site (IRES) in the 5′-UTR of a novel exon 13-containing OPRM1 isoforms (MOR-1K) and affects both mRNA levels and translation efficiency of these variants. Furthermore, rs563649 exhibits very strong linkage disequilibrium throughout the entire OPRM1 gene locus and thus affects the functional contribution of the corresponding haplotype that includes other functional OPRM1 SNPs. Our results provide evidence for an essential role for MOR-1K isoforms in nociceptive signaling and suggest that genetic variations in alternative OPRM1 isoforms may contribute to individual differences in opiate responses.
PMCID: PMC2649019  PMID: 19103668
4.  Two Sensitive PCR-Based Methods for Detection of Hepatitis B Virus Variants Associated with Reduced Susceptibility to Lamivudine 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  1999;37(10):3338-3347.
Two novel assays, a restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) assay and an assay based on the 5′-nuclease activity of Taq DNA polymerase, were developed for screening viral variants in lamivudine-treated patients’ sera containing <1,000 copies of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) genome per ml. Both assays were designed to detect single-nucleotide changes within the HBV DNA polymerase gene that are associated with lamivudine resistance in vitro and have been used to screen a number of patients’ sera for variant virus. Results obtained with these assays and standard sequencing technology were compared with regard to throughput, ability to detect individual virus species present at low concentrations, and ability to detect, distinguish, and quantitate wild-type (wt) and HBV tyrosine methionine552 aspartate aspartate motif variants in mixed viral populations. Unlike DNA sequencing, both assays are amenable to high-throughput screening and were shown to be able to quantitatively detect variant virus in the presence of a background of wt virus. As with DNA sequencing, both new assays incorporate a PCR amplification step and are able to detect the relatively low amounts of virus found in lamivudine-treated patients’ sera. However, these assays are far less labor intensive than the DNA-sequencing techniques presently in use. Overall, the RFLP assay was more sensitive than DNA sequencing in detecting and determining the ratios of wt to variant virus. Furthermore, the RFLP assay and 5′-nuclease assay were equally sensitive in the detection of mixed viral species, but the RFLP assay was superior to the 5′-nuclease assay in the quantitation of mixed viral species. These assays should prove useful for further understanding of virological response to therapy and disease progression.
PMCID: PMC85560  PMID: 10488202

Results 1-4 (4)