Both μ-opioid (MOP) and type 2 cholecystokinin (CCK 2) receptors are present in areas of the central nervous system that are involved in modulation of pain processing. We conducted bioluminescence resonance energy transfer (BRET) studies on COS cells coexpressing MOP and CCK 2 receptors to determine whether receptor heterodimerization is involved in such modulation. These studies revealed the absence of constitutive or monovalent ligand-induced heterodimerization. Heterodimerization of MOP and CCK 2 receptors therefore is unlikely to be responsible for the opposing effects between morphine and CCK in the CNS. However, association was induced, as indicated by a positive BRET signal, on exposure of the cells to bivalent ligands containing μ-opioid agonist and CCK 2 receptor antagonist pharmacophores linked through spacers containing 16-22 atoms but not with a shorter (9-atom) spacer. These studies demonstrate for the first time that an appropriately designed bivalent ligand is capable of inducing association of G-protein-coupled receptors. The finding that opioid tolerance studies with these ligands in mice showed no correlation with the BRET data is consistent with the absence of association of MOP and CCK 2 receptors in vivo.
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