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Biosens Bioelectron. 2002 Apr;17(4):331-5.

Biosensing of opioids using frog melanophores.

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Department of Medicine and Care, Pharmacology, Faculty of Health Sciences, SE-581 85, Linkoping, Sweden.


Spectacular color changes of fishes, frogs and other lower vertebrates are due to the motile activities of specialized pigment containing cells. Pigment cells are interesting for biosensing purposes since they provide an easily monitored physiological phenomenon. Melanophores, containing dark brown melanin pigment granules, constitute an important class of chromatophores. Their melanin-filled pigment granules may be stimulated to undergo rapid dispersion throughout the melanophores (cells appear dark), or aggregation to the center of the melanophores (cells appear light). This simple physiological response can easily be measured in a photometer. Selected G protein coupled receptors can be functionally expressed in cultured frog melanophores. Here, we demonstrate the use of recombinant frog melanophores as a biosensor for the detection of opioids. Melanophores were transfected with the human opioid receptor 3 and used for opiate detection. The response to the opioid receptor agonist morphine and a synthetic opioid peptide was analyzed by absorbance readings in an aggregation assay. It was shown that both agonists caused aggregation of pigment granules in the melanophores, and the cells appeared lighter. The pharmacology of the expressed receptors was very similar to its mammalian counterpart, as evidenced by competitive inhibition by increasing concentrations of the opioid receptor inhibitor naloxone. Transfection of melanophores with selected receptors enables the creation of numerous melanophore biosensors, which respond selectively to certain substances. The melanophore biosensor has potential use for measurement of substances in body fluids such as saliva, blood plasma and urine.

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