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Neuropharmacology. 2004;47 Suppl 1:286-92.

A cell biologist's perspective on physiological adaptation to opiate drugs.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco, Room N212E Genentech Hall, 600 16th Street, San Francisco, CA 94143-2140, USA.


Opiate drugs such as morphine and heroin are among the most effective analgesics known but are also highly addictive. The clinical utility of opiates is limited by adaptive changes in the nervous system occurring after prolonged or repeated drug administration. These adaptations are believed to play an important role in the development of physiological tolerance and dependence to opiates, and to contribute to additional changes underlying the complex neurobehavioral syndrome of drug addiction. All of these adaptive changes are initiated by the binding of opiate drugs to a subfamily of G protein-coupled receptors that are also activated by endogenously produced opioid neuropeptides. It is increasingly evident that opiate-induced adaptations occur at multiple levels in the nervous system, beginning with regulation of opioid receptors themselves and extending to a complex network of direct and indirect modifications of "downstream" signaling machinery. Efforts in my laboratory are directed at understanding the biochemical and cell biological basis of opiate adaptations. So far, we have focused primarily on adaptations occurring at the level of opioid receptors themselves. These studies have contributed to defining a set of membrane trafficking mechanisms by which the number and functional activity of opioid receptors are controlled. The role of these mechanisms in affecting adaptation of "downstream" neurobiological substrates, and in mediating opiate-induced changes in whole-animal physiology and behavior, are exciting questions that are only beginning to be explored.

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