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J Biol Chem. 2003 May 23;278(21):18776-84. Epub 2003 Mar 17.

Opioid agonists have different efficacy profiles for G protein activation, rapid desensitization, and endocytosis of mu-opioid receptors.

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Department of Pharmacology, The University of Sydney, New South Wales 2006, Australia.


The differential ability of various mu-opioid receptor (MOP) agonists to induce rapid receptor desensitization and endocytosis of MOP could arise simply from differences in their efficacy to activate G proteins or, alternatively, be due to differential capacity for activation of other signaling processes. We used AtT20 cells stably expressing a low density of FLAG-tagged MOP to compare the efficacies of a range of agonists to 1) activate G proteins using inhibition of calcium channel currents (ICa) as a reporter before and after inactivation of a fraction of receptors by beta-chlornaltrexamine, 2) produce rapid, homologous desensitization of ICa inhibition, and 3) internalize receptors. Relative efficacies determined for G protein coupling were [Tyr-D-Ala-Gly-MePhe-Glyol]enkephalin (DAMGO) (1) > or = methadone (0.98) > morphine (0.58) > pentazocine (0.15). The same rank order of efficacies for rapid desensitization of MOP was observed, but greater concentrations of agonist were required than for G protein activation. By contrast, relative efficacies for promoting endocytosis of MOP were DAMGO (1) > methadone (0.59) >> morphine (0.07) > or = pentazocine (0.03). These results indicate that the efficacy of opioids to produce activation of G proteins and rapid desensitization is distinct from their capacity to internalize mu-opioid receptors but that, contrary to some previous reports, morphine can produce rapid, homologous desensitization of MOP.

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