Signal transduction induced by opioids in immune cells: a review

Neuroimmunomodulation. 2006;13(1):1-7. doi: 10.1159/000092107. Epub 2006 Apr 3.


New data regarding signal transduction triggered by opioid ligands in immune cells are reviewed, and the signal transduction in neuronal cells is documented. Similar signaling pathways are induced by opioids in immune as well as neuronal cells. Opioids altered second messenger cAMP, intracellular calcium, and second messenger-induced kinases in immune cells. Met-enkephalin, preferentially delta-opioid, was bimodally regulated, while kappa-opioids inhibited these second messengers. delta-, kappa- and micro-opioids altered nitric oxide secretion, inducing cGMP as the second messenger in immune cells. Coupling of opioid agonists to opioid receptors activated mitogen-activated protein/extracellular signal-regulated protein kinases and various transcription factors in immune cells. Activator protein 1 (AP-1), c-fos, and nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-kappaB) are transcription factors shared by neuronal and immune cells. Delta-opioids activated AP-1, c-fos, activating transcription factor 2, Ikaros-1 and Ikaros-2 transcription factors in immune cells. Induction of kappa-opioid receptor gene by retinoic acid resulted in increased binding of Sp1 transcription factor to the promoter of the kappa-opioid receptor. Micro-opioids inhibited synthesis of common transcription factors AP-1, c-fos, NF-kappaB, and nuclear factor of activated T cells in activated or stimulated immune cells, whereas micro-opioids activated NF-kappaB, GATA-3, and Kruppel-like factor 7 transcription factors in non-stimulated immune cells.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes / immunology*
  • Leukocytes / metabolism
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System / genetics
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System / immunology
  • Neuroimmunomodulation / genetics
  • Neuroimmunomodulation / immunology*
  • Receptors, Opioid / immunology
  • Second Messenger Systems / genetics
  • Second Messenger Systems / immunology
  • Signal Transduction / genetics
  • Signal Transduction / immunology*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / immunology
  • Transcriptional Activation / genetics
  • Transcriptional Activation / immunology


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Receptors, Opioid
  • Transcription Factors