Nitric oxide and zinc-mediated protein assemblies involved in mu opioid receptor signaling

Mol Neurobiol. 2013 Dec;48(3):769-82. doi: 10.1007/s12035-013-8465-z. Epub 2013 May 11.


Opioids are among the most effective analgesics in controlling the perception of intense pain, although their continuous use decreases their potency due to the development of tolerance. The glutamate N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor system is currently considered to be the most relevant functional antagonist of morphine analgesia. In the postsynapse of different brain regions the C terminus of the mu-opioid receptor (MOR) associates with NR1 subunits of NMDARs, as well as with a series of signaling proteins, such as neural nitric oxide synthase (nNOS)/nitric oxide (NO), protein kinase C (PKC), calcium and calmodulin-dependent kinase II (CaMKII) and the mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs). NO is implicated in redox signaling and PKC falls under the regulation of zinc metabolism, suggesting that these signaling elements might participate in the regulation of MOR activity by the NMDAR. In this review, we discuss the influence of redox signaling in the mechanisms whose plasticity triggers opioid tolerance. Thus, the MOR C terminus assembles a series of signaling proteins around the homodimeric histidine triad nucleotide-binding protein 1 (HINT1). The NMDAR NR1 subunit and the regulator of G protein signaling RGSZ2 bind HINT1 in a zinc-independent manner, with RGSZ2 associating with nNOS and regulating MOR-induced production of NO. This NO acts on the RGSZ2 zinc finger, providing the zinc ions that are required for PKC/Raf-1 cysteine-rich domains to simultaneously bind to the histidines present in the HINT1 homodimer. The MOR-induced activation of phospholipase β (PLCβ) regulates PKC, which increases the reactive oxygen species (ROS) by acting on NOX/NADPH, consolidating the long-term PKC activation required to regulate the Raf-1/MAPK cascade and enhancing NMDAR function. Thus, RGSZ2 serves as a Redox Zinc Switch that converts NO signals into Zinc signals, thereby modulating Redox Sensor Proteins like PKCγ and Raf-1. Accordingly, redox-dependent and independent processes weave together to situate the MOR under the negative control of the NMDAR.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / chemistry
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism*
  • Nervous System / metabolism
  • Nitric Oxide / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Zinc / metabolism*


  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Zinc