Differential regulation of RGS proteins in the prefrontal cortex of short- and long-term human opiate abusers

Neuropharmacology. 2012 Feb;62(2):1044-51. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.10.015. Epub 2011 Oct 31.


Opiate addiction is characterized by drug tolerance and dependence which involve adaptive changes in μ-opioid receptors (MORs) signaling. Regulators of G-protein signaling RGS9, RGS4 and RGS10 proteins negatively regulate G(αi/o) protein activity modulating MOR function. An important role of RGS proteins in drug addiction has been described but the status of RGS proteins in human brain of opiate addicts remains unknown. The present study evaluated the immunoreactivity levels of RGS4, RGS9 and RGS10 proteins in prefrontal cortex of short- (n = 15) and long-term (n = 21) opiate abusers and in matched control subjects. RGS4 protein was not altered in short-term opiate abusers but, in long-term abusers it was significantly up-regulated (Δ = 29 ± 6%). RGS10 protein expression was significantly decreased in short-term (Δ = -42 ± 7%) but remained unaltered in long-term opiate abusers. RGS9 protein levels in opiate abusers did not differ from matched controls either in the short-term or in the long-term opiate abuser groups. RGS4, RGS9 and RGS10 levels were also studied in brains (frontal cortex) of rats submitted to acute and chronic morphine treatment and to spontaneous and naloxone-precipitated opiate withdrawal. Chronic morphine treatment in rats was associated with an increase in RGS4 protein immunoreactivity (Δ = 28 ± 7%), which persisted in spontaneous (Δ = 35 ± 8%) and naloxone-precipitated withdrawal (Δ = 30 ± 9%) without significant changes in RGS9 and RGS10 proteins. The specific modulation of RGS4 and RGS10 protein expression observed in the prefrontal cortex of opiate abusers might be relevant in the neurobiology of opiate tolerance, dependence and withdrawal. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled 'Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder'.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / metabolism*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / metabolism*
  • RGS Proteins / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Time Factors


  • RGS Proteins
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu