Endocytosis of the mu opioid receptor reduces tolerance and a cellular hallmark of opiate withdrawal

Neuron. 2001 Dec 6;32(5):829-39. doi: 10.1016/s0896-6273(01)00517-7.


Morphine is unusual in its failure to promote robust desensitization and endocytosis of the mu opioid receptor (MOR), processes that for many receptors contribute directly to tolerance. This apparent paradox has led us to revise the idea that receptor desensitization and endocytosis are solely responsible for tolerance and withdrawal to morphine, and instead test the hypothesis that these side effects occur due to abnormally prolonged MOR signaling. We report here that MOR mutations that facilitate endocytosis reduce the development of cellular tolerance and cAMP superactivation, a cellular hallmark of withdrawal. Moreover, mutant receptors with reduced endocytosis produce exacerbated superactivation. These data demonstrate a critical role for receptor endocytosis in the development of adverse side effects associated with prolonged opiate use.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / pharmacology
  • Cell Line
  • Cyclic AMP / metabolism
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Tolerance / physiology*
  • Endocytosis / drug effects
  • Endocytosis / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Methadone / pharmacology
  • Morphine / pharmacology
  • Mutation / drug effects
  • Mutation / physiology
  • Narcotics* / adverse effects
  • Narcotics* / pharmacokinetics
  • Protein Transport / drug effects
  • Protein Transport / physiology
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu / genetics
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu / metabolism*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / metabolism*


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Narcotics
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu
  • Morphine
  • Cyclic AMP
  • Methadone