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J Neurosci. 2010 Dec 8;30(49):16459-68. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3748-10.2010.

Ligand-directed trafficking of the δ-opioid receptor in vivo: two paths toward analgesic tolerance.

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  • 1Institut de Génétique et de Biologie Moléculaire et Cellulaire, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique/Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale/Université de Strasbourg, 67404 Illkirch, France.


δ-Opioid receptors are G-protein-coupled receptors that regulate nociceptive and emotional responses. It has been well established that distinct agonists acting at the same G-protein-coupled receptor can engage different signaling or regulatory responses. This concept, known as biased agonism, has important biological and therapeutic implications. Ligand-biased responses are well described in cellular models, however, demonstrating the physiological relevance of biased agonism in vivo remains a major challenge. The aim of this study was to investigate the long-term consequences of ligand-biased trafficking of the δ-opioid receptor, at both the cellular and behavioral level. We used δ agonists with similar binding and analgesic properties, but high [SNC80 ((+)-4-[(αR)-α-((2S,5R)-4-allyl-2,5-dimethyl-1-piperazinyl)-3-methoxybenzyl]-N,N-diethylbenzamide)]- or low [ARM390 (N,N-diethyl-4-(phenyl-piperidin-4-ylidenemethyl)-benzamide)]-internalization potencies. As we found previously, a single SNC80-but not ARM390-administration triggered acute desensitization of the analgesic response in mice. However, daily injections of either compound over 5 d produced full analgesic tolerance. SNC80-tolerant animals showed widespread receptor downregulation, and tolerance to analgesic, locomotor and anxiolytic effects of the agonist. Hence, internalization-dependent tolerance developed, as a result of generalized receptor degradation. In contrast, ARM390-tolerant mice showed intact receptor expression, but δ-opioid receptor coupling to Ca²+ channels was abolished in dorsal root ganglia. Concomitantly, tolerance developed for agonist-induced analgesia, but not locomotor or anxiolytic responses. Therefore, internalization-independent tolerance was produced by anatomically restricted adaptations leading to pain-specific tolerance. Hence, ligand-directed receptor trafficking of the δ-opioid receptor engages distinct adaptive responses, and this study reveals a novel aspect of biased agonism in vivo.

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