Agonist-selective endocytosis of μ opioid receptor by neurons in vivo

Catia Sternini, Marvin Spann, Benito Anton, Duane E. Keith, Nigel W. Bunnett, Mark Von Zastrow, Christopher Evans, Nicholas C. Brecha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Opiate alkaloids are potent analgesics that exert multiple pharmacological effects in the nervous system by activating G protein- coupled receptors. Receptor internalization upon stimulation may be important for desensitization and resensitization, which affect cellular responsiveness to ligands. Here, we investigated the agonist-induced internalization of the μ opioid receptor (MOR) in vivo by using the guinea pig ileum as a model system and immunohistochemistry with an affinity-purified antibody to the C terminus of rat MOR. Antibody specificity was confirmed by the positive staining of human embryonic kidney 293 cells transfected with epitope-tagged MOR cDNA, by the lack of staining of cells transfected with the δ or κ receptor cDNA, and by the abolition of staining when the MOR antibody was preadsorbed with the MOR peptide fragment. Abundant MOR immunoreactivity (MOR-IR) was localized to the cell body, dendrites, and axonal processes of myenteric neurons. Immunostaining was primarily confined to the plasma membrane of cell bodies and processes. Within 15 min of an intraperitoneal injection of the opiate agonist etorphine, intense MOR-IR was present in vesiclelike structures, which were identified as endosomes by confocal microscopy. At 30 min, MOR-IR was throughout the cytoplasm and in perinuclear vesicles. MOR-IR was still internalized at 120 min. Agonist-induced endocytosis was completely inhibited by the opiate antagonist naloxone. Interestingly, morphine, a high-affinity MOR agonist, did not cause detectable internalization, but it partially inhibited the etorphine-induced MOR endocytosis. These results demonstrate the occurrence of agonist- selective MOR endocytosis in neurons naturally expressing this receptor in vivo and suggest the existence of different mechanisms regulating cellular responsiveness to ligands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9241-9246
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number17
StatePublished - Aug 20 1996


  • enteric neurons
  • motility
  • motor neurons
  • opiate alkaloids
  • opioid receptors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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