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Mol Pharmacol. 2006 Aug;70(2):676-85. Epub 2006 May 8.

Agonist-selective mechanisms of mu-opioid receptor desensitization in human embryonic kidney 293 cells.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology, University of Bristol, Bristol, BS8 1TD, UK.


The ability of two opioid agonists, [d-Ala(2),N-Me-Phe(4),Gly(5)-ol]-enkephalin (DAMGO) and morphine, to induce mu-opioid receptor (MOR) phosphorylation, desensitization, and internalization was examined in human embryonic kidney (HEK) 293 cells expressing rat MOR1 as well G protein-coupled inwardly rectifying potassium channel (GIRK) channel subunits. Both DAMGO and morphine activated GIRK currents, but the maximum response to DAMGO was greater than that of morphine, indicating that morphine is a partial agonist. The responses to DAMGO and morphine desensitized rapidly in the presence of either drug. Expression of a dominant negative mutant G protein-coupled receptor kinase 2 (GRK2), GRK2-K220R, markedly attenuated the DAMGO-induced desensitization of MOR1, but it had no effect on morphine-induced MOR1 desensitization. In contrast, inhibition of protein kinase C (PKC) either by the PKC inhibitory peptide PKC (19-31) or staurosporine reduced MOR1 desensitization by morphine but not that induced by DAMGO. Morphine and DAMGO enhanced MOR1 phosphorylation over basal. The PKC inhibitor bisindolylmaleimide 1 (GF109203X) inhibited MOR1 phosphorylation under basal conditions and in the presence of morphine, but it did not inhibit DAMGO-induced phosphorylation. DAMGO induced arrestin-2 translocation to the plasma membrane and considerable MOR1 internalization, whereas morphine did not induce arrestin-2 translocation and induced very little MOR1 internalization. Thus, DAMGO and morphine each induce desensitization of MOR1 signaling in HEK293 cells but by different molecular mechanisms; DAMGO-induced desensitization is GRK2-dependent, whereas morphine-induced desensitization is in part PKC-dependent. MORs desensitized by DAMGO activation are then readily internalized by an arrestin-dependent mechanism, whereas those desensitized by morphine are not. These data suggest that opioid agonists induce different conformations of the MOR that are susceptible to different desensitizing and internalization processes.

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