Morphine induces ubiquitin-proteasome activity and glutamate transporter degradation

J Biol Chem. 2008 Aug 1;283(31):21703-13. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M800809200. Epub 2008 Jun 6.


Glutamate transporters play a crucial role in physiological glutamate homeostasis, neurotoxicity, and glutamatergic regulation of opioid tolerance. However, how the glutamate transporter turnover is regulated remains poorly understood. Here we show that chronic morphine exposure induced posttranscriptional down-regulation of the glutamate transporter EAAC1 in C6 glioma cells with a concurrent decrease in glutamate uptake and increase in proteasome activity, which were blocked by the selective proteasome inhibitor MG-132 or lactacystin but not the lysosomal inhibitor chloroquin. At the cellular level, chronic morphine induced the PTEN (phosphatase and tensin homolog deleted on chromosome Ten)-mediated up-regulation of the ubiquitin E3 ligase Nedd4 via cAMP/protein kinase A signaling, leading to EAAC1 ubiquitination and proteasomal degradation. Either Nedd4 or PTEN knockdown with small interfering RNA prevented the morphine-induced EAAC1 degradation and decreased glutamate uptake. These data indicate that cAMP/protein kinase A signaling serves as an intracellular regulator upstream to the activation of the PTEN/Nedd4-mediated ubiquitin-proteasome system activity that is critical for glutamate transporter turnover. Under an in vivo condition, chronic morphine exposure also induced posttranscriptional down-regulation of the glutamate transporter EAAC1, which was prevented by MG-132, and transcriptional up-regulation of PTEN and Nedd4 within the spinal cord dorsal horn. Thus, inhibition of the ubiquitin-proteasome-mediated glutamate transporter degradation may be an important mechanism for preventing glutamate overexcitation and may offer a new strategy for treating certain neurological disorders and improving opioid therapy in chronic pain management.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcysteine / analogs & derivatives
  • Acetylcysteine / pharmacology
  • Amino Acid Transport System X-AG / metabolism*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Chloroquine / chemistry
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Transporter 3 / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Leupeptins / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Morphine / pharmacology*
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex / chemistry*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Ubiquitin / chemistry*


  • Amino Acid Transport System X-AG
  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Transporter 3
  • Leupeptins
  • SLC1A1 protein, human
  • Ubiquitin
  • lactacystin
  • Morphine
  • Chloroquine
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex
  • ATP dependent 26S protease
  • benzyloxycarbonylleucyl-leucyl-leucine aldehyde
  • Acetylcysteine