Epigenetic activation of m-opioid receptor gene via increased expression and function of mitogen- and stress-activated protein kinase 1

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Since the discovery of m-opioid receptor (MOR) gene two decades ago, various regulatory factors have been shown to interact with the MOR promoter and modulate transcript levels. However, the majority of early transcriptional studies on MOR gene have not addressed how intracellular signaling pathways mediate extracellular modulators. In this study, we demonstrate that MOR epigenetic regulation requires multiple coordinated signals converging at the MOR promoter, involving mitogenactivated protein kinase (MAPK) activation and mitogen- and stress-activated protein kinase 1 (MSK1) - ranges of intracellular signaling pathways similar to those activated by opioid agonists. Inhibiting p38 MAPK or extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) 1/2 MAPK (upstream activators of MSK1) reduced MOR expression levels; accordingly, the functional role of MSK1, but not MSK2, was demonstrated using genetic approaches. However, for maximal MSK1 effect, an open chromatin configuration was required, because in vitro CpG methylation of the MOR promoter abolished MSK1 activity. Finally, endogenous MSK1 levels concomitantly increased to regulate MOR gene expression during neuronal differentiation of P19 cells, suggesting a conserved role of this kinase in the epigenic activation of MOR in neurons. Taken together, our findings indicate that the expression of MOR gene requires the activity of intracellular signaling pathways that have been implicated in the behavioral outcomes of opioid drugs, which suggests that an autoregulatory mechanism may function in opioid systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)357-372
Number of pages16
JournalMolecular Pharmacology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2017


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