Although micro, kappa, and delta opioids activate extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)/mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase, the mechanisms involved in their signaling pathways and the cellular responses that ensue differ. Here we focused on the mechanisms by which micro opioids rapidly (min) activate ERK and their slower (h) actions to inhibit epidermal growth factor (EGF)-induced ERK-mediated astrocyte proliferation. The micro-opioid agonists ([d-ala(2), mephe(4), gly-ol(5)] enkephalin and morphine) promoted the phosphorylation of ERK/MAP kinase within 5 min via G(i/o) protein, calmodulin (CaM), and beta-arrestin2-dependent signaling pathways in immortalized and primary astrocytes. This was based on the attenuation of the micro-opioid activation of ERK by pertussis toxin (PTX), the CaM antagonist, W-7, and siRNA silencing of beta-arrestin2. All three pathways were shown to activate ERK via an EGF receptor transactivation-mediated mechanism. This was disclosed by abolishment of micro-opioid-induced ERK phosphorylation with the EGF receptor-specific tyrosine phosphorylation inhibitor, AG1478, and micro-opioid-induced reduction of EGF receptor tyrosine phosphorylation by PTX, and beta-arrestin2 targeting siRNA in the present studies and formerly by CaM antisense. Long-term (h) treatment of primary astrocytes with [d-ala(2),mephe(4),gly-ol(5)] enkephalin or morphine, attenuated EGF-induced ERK phosphorylation and proliferation (as measured by 5'-bromo-2'-deoxy-uridine labeling). PTX and beta-arrestin2 siRNA but not W-7 reversed the micro-opioid inhibition. Unexpectedly, beta-arrestin-2 siRNA diminished both EGF-induced ERK activation and primary astrocyte proliferation suggesting that this adaptor protein plays a novel role in EGF signaling as well as in the opioid receptor phase of this pathway. The results lend insight into the integration of the different micro-opioid signaling pathways to ERK and their cellular responses.