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Morphine induces endocytosis of neuronal μ-opioid receptors through the sustained transfer of Gα subunits to RGSZ2 proteins

AuthorsRodríguez-Muñoz, María; Torre-Madrid, Elena de la ; Sánchez-Blázquez, Pilar ; Garzón, Javier
Neuronal μ-opioid receptors
Issue Date17-Jul-2007
PublisherBioMed Central
CitationMolecular Pain 2007, 3:19
AbstractBackground: In general, opioids that induce the recycling of μ-opioid receptors (MORs) promote little desensitization, although morphine is one exception to this rule. While morphine fails to provoke significant internalization of MORs in cultured cells, it does stimulate profound desensitization. In contrast, morphine does promote some internalization of MORs in neurons although this does not prevent this opioid from inducing strong antinociceptive tolerance. Results: In neurons, morphine stimulates the long-lasting transfer of MOR-activated Gα subunits to proteins of the RGS-R7 and RGS-Rz subfamilies. We investigated the influence of this regulatory process on the capacity of morphine to promote desensitization and its association with MOR recycling in the mature nervous system. In parallel, we also studied the effects of [D-Ala2, NMePhe4, Gly-ol5] encephalin (DAMGO), a potent inducer of MOR internalization that promotes little tolerance. We observed that the initial exposure to icv morphine caused no significant internalization of MORs but rather, a fraction of the Gα subunits was stably transferred to RGS proteins in a time-dependent manner. As a result, the antinociception produced by a second dose of morphine administered 6 h after the first was weaker. However, this opioid now stimulated the phosphorylation, internalization and recycling of MORs, and further exposure to morphine promoted little tolerance to this moderate antinociception. In contrast, the initial dose of DAMGO stimulated intense phosphorylation and internalization of the MORs associated with a transient transfer of Gα subunits to the RGS proteins, recovering MOR control shortly after the effects of the opioid had ceased. Accordingly, the recycled MORs re-established their association with G proteins and the neurons were rapidly resensitized to DAMGO. Conclusion: In the nervous system, morphine induces a strong desensitization before promoting the phosphorylation and recycling of MORs. The long-term sequestering of morphine-activated Gα subunits by certain RGS proteins reduces the responses to this opioid in neurons. This phenomenon probably increases free Gβγ dimers in the receptor environment and leads to GRK phosphorylation and internalization of the MORs. Although, the internalization of the MORs permits the transfer of opioid-activated Gα subunits to the RGSZ2 proteins, it interferes with the stabilization of this regulatory process and recycled MORs recover the control on these Gα subunits and opioid tolerance develops slowly.
Publisher version (URL)http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/1744-8069-3-19
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