Role for G protein-coupled receptor kinase in agonist-specific regulation of μ-opioid receptor responsiveness

Jie Zhang, Stephen S.G. Ferguson, Larry S. Barak, Sobha R. Bodduluri, Stéphane A. Laporte, Ping-Yee Law, Marc G. Caron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

465 Scopus citations


The G protein-coupled μ-opioid receptor (μOR) mediates the physiological effects of endogenous opioid peptides as well as the structurally distinct opioid alkaloids morphine and etorphine. An intriguing feature of μOR signaling is the differential receptor trafficking and desensitization properties following activation by distinct agonists, which have been proposed as possible mechanisms related to opioid tolerance. Here we report that the ability of distinct opioid agonists to differentially regulate μOR internalization and desensitization is related to their ability to promote G protein-coupled receptor kinase (GRK)-dependent phosphorylation of the μOR. Although both etorphine and morphine effectively activate the μOR, only etorphine elicits robust μOR phosphorylation followed by plasma membrane translocation of β-arrestin and dynamin-dependent receptor internalization. In contrast, corresponding to its inability to cause μOR internalization, morphine is unable to either elicit μOR phosphorylation or stimulate β-arrestin translocation. However, upon the overexpression of GRK2, morphine gains the capacity to induce μOR phosphorylation, accompanied by the rescue of β-arrestin translocation and receptor sequestration. Moreover, overexpression of GRK2 also leads to an attenuation of morphine- mediated inhibition of adenylyl cyclase. These findings point to the existence of marked differences in the ability of different opioid agonists to promote μOR phosphorylation by GRK. These differences may provide the molecular basis underlying the different analgesic properties of opioid agonists and contribute to the distinct ability of various opioids to induce drug tolerance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7157-7162
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 9 1998


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