Modulation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) activity by acute and chronic opioid treatment in neuronal and glial cell lines

J Neurochem. 2004 Sep;90(6):1371-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-4159.2004.02610.x.


Acute mu opioid application has been shown to activate extracellular signal-related kinases (ERKs) in various non-neural cell lines. However, ERK activation in neuronal cells following acute morphine treatment is more questionable. Moreover, the ERK activation phenomenon observed in vivo after withdrawal of chronic opioids has never been demonstrated in vitro. The goal of this study was to determine if mu agonist treatment induced ERK activation acutely or after withdrawal of chronic opioids in one glial and three neuronal cell lines. We found that acute application of opioids was not able to activate ERK in neuronal cell lines but was able to activate ERK in a glial cell line. In another set of experiments, cells were chronically treated with escalating doses of a mu opioid agonist. After 8 days, the agonist was removed from the media and naloxone applied. Acute ERK activation was not seen in any tested cell line after agonist removal. These findings suggest that opioids may acutely activate ERK in non-neuronal cells, and that the acute ERK activation observed in some brain regions during opioid withdrawal in vivo might be mediated by indirect effects on neuronal cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blotting, Western / methods
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Diprenorphine / pharmacokinetics
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Enzyme Activation / drug effects
  • Fentanyl / pharmacology
  • Glioma
  • Guanosine 5'-O-(3-Thiotriphosphate) / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism*
  • Naloxone / pharmacology
  • Narcotic Antagonists / pharmacokinetics
  • Narcotics / pharmacology*
  • Neuroblastoma
  • Neuroglia / drug effects*
  • Neuroglia / enzymology
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Neurons / enzymology
  • Radioligand Assay
  • Rats
  • Time Factors


  • Ligands
  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Narcotics
  • Diprenorphine
  • Naloxone
  • Guanosine 5'-O-(3-Thiotriphosphate)
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • Fentanyl