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J Biol Chem. 2007 Sep 14;282(37):27126-32. Epub 2007 Jul 6.

Live cell monitoring of mu-opioid receptor-mediated G-protein activation reveals strong biological activity of close morphine biosynthetic precursors.

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  • 1Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology and Bio-Imaging Center, University of Würzburg, Versbacherstrasse 9, D-97078 Würzburg, Germany. nikolaev@toxi.uni-wuerzburg.de


G-protein activation by receptors is generally measured using (35)S-GTPgammaS binding assays in cell membranes and cannot be well assessed in intact cells. We have recently developed a fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET)-based approach to monitor G(i)-protein activation in living cells. Here we report that this technique can be used to determine structure-activity relationships of receptor agonists in intact cells. We have recently shown that morphine is biosynthesized de novo by mammals via a multistep pathway different from that in plants. However, the pharmacological properties of morphine precursors are poorly understood. Here, we directly monitored mu-opioid receptor (MOR)-mediated G(i)-protein activation in living cells by FRET and validated this method with classical GTPgammaS binding assays. Receptor binding studies and FRET measurements demonstrated that several (R)-configurated morphine precursors such as (R)-reticuline, salutaridine, salutaridinol, thebaine, and codeine were partial MOR agonists. Some closer precursors such as oripavine, codeinone, and morphinone activated G(i)-proteins as strongly as morphine, but with slightly lower potencies. The more distant the precursors were positioned in the pathway with respect to morphine, the less efficient and potent they were at MOR. Comparison of pharmacological properties of close morphine precursors and concentrations in which they occur in animal tissues suggests that they might activate MOR signaling under physiological conditions. Taken together, our data indicate that FRET-based assays of G-protein activation can serve to determine the abilities of compounds to activate G-protein signaling directly and in living cells.

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