Two distinct mechanisms mediate acute mu-opioid receptor desensitization in native neurons

Author(s): Dang VC, Napier IA, Christie MJ


Sustained stimulation of G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) leads to rapid loss of receptor function (acute desensitization). For many GPCRs including the mu-opioid receptor (MOR), an accepted mechanism for acute desensitization is through G-protein coupled receptor kinase (GRKs) mediated phosphorylation of the receptor, which facilitates the binding of beta-arrestins (betaarrs) to the receptor and then promotes endocytosis. However, the mechanism(s) that mediate acute desensitization have not yet been well defined in native neurons. This study used whole-cell patch clamp recording of G-protein coupled inward-rectifying potassium (GIRK) currents to assay MOR function and identify mechanisms of acute MOR desensitization in locus ceruleus (LC) neurons. The rate and extent of MOR desensitization were unaffected by beta(arr)-2 knock-out. Disruption of GRK2 function via inhibitory peptide introduced directly into neurons also failed to affect desensitization in wild type or beta(arr)-2 knock-outs. Inhibition of ERK1/2 activation alone had little effect on acute desensitization. However, when both GRK2-beta(arr)-2 and ERK1/2 functions were disrupted simultaneously, desensitization of MOR was nearly abolished. Together, these results suggest that acute desensitization of MOR in native LC neurons is determined by at least two molecular pathways, one involving GRK2 and beta(arr)2, and a parallel pathway mediated by activated ERK1/2.

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