Mu-opioid receptors transiently activate the Akt-nNOS pathway to produce sustained potentiation of PKC-mediated NMDAR-CaMKII signaling

PLoS One. 2010 Jun 23;5(6):e11278. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0011278.


Background: In periaqueductal grey (PAG) matter, cross-talk between the Mu-opioid receptor (MOR) and the glutamate N-methyl-D-Aspartate receptor (NMDAR)-CaMKII pathway supports the development of analgesic tolerance to morphine. In neurons, histidine triad nucleotide binding protein 1 (HINT1) connects the regulators of G protein signaling RGSZ1 and RGSZ2 to the C terminus of the MOR. In response to morphine, this HINT1-RGSZ complex binds PKCgamma, and afterwards, the interplay between PKCgamma, Src and Gz/Gi proteins leads to sustained potentiation of NMDAR-mediated glutamate responses.

Methodology/principal findings: Following an intracerebroventricular (icv) injection of 10 nmol morphine, Akt was recruited to the synaptosomal membrane and activated by Thr308 and Ser473 phosphorylation. The Akt activation was immediately transferred to neural Nitric Oxide Synthase (nNOS) Ser1417. Afterwards, nitric oxide (NO)-released zinc ions recruited PKCgamma to the MOR to promote the Src-mediated phosphorylation of the Tyr1325 NMDAR2A subunit. This action increased NMDAR calcium flux and CaMKII was activated in a calcium-calmodulin dependent manner. CaMKII then acted on nNOS Ser847 to produce a sustained reduction in NO levels. The activation of the Akt-nNOS pathway was also reduced by the binding of these proteins to the MOR-HINT1 complex where they remained inactive. Tolerance to acute morphine developed as a result of phosphorylation of MOR cytosolic residues, uncoupling from the regulated G proteins which are transferred to RGSZ2 proteins. The diminished effect of morphine was prevented by LNNA, an inhibitor of nNOS function, and naltrindole, a delta-opioid receptor antagonist that also inhibits Akt.

Conclusions/significance: Analysis of the regulatory phosphorylation of the proteins included in the study indicated that morphine produces a transient activation of the Akt/PKB-nNOS pathway. This activation occurs upstream of PKCgamma and Src mediated potentiation of NMDAR activity, ultimately leading to morphine tolerance. In summary, the Akt-nNOS pathway acts as a primer for morphine-triggered events which leads to the sustained potentiation of the NMDAR-CaMKII pathway and MOR inhibition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium-Calmodulin-Dependent Protein Kinase Type 2 / metabolism*
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Injections, Intraventricular
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Morphine / administration & dosage
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type I / metabolism*
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein Kinase C / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Receptors, Opioid, mu
  • Morphine
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type I
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • Protein Kinase C
  • Calcium-Calmodulin-Dependent Protein Kinase Type 2