Desensitization of µ-opioid receptors (MORs) develops over 5-15 minutes after the application of some, but not all, opioid agonists and lasts for tens of minutes after agonist removal. The decrease in function is receptor selective (homologous) and could result from 1) a reduction in receptor number or 2) a decrease in receptor coupling. The present investigation used photolysis of two caged opioid ligands to examine the kinetics of MOR-induced potassium conductance before and after MOR desensitization. Photolysis of a caged antagonist, carboxynitroveratryl-naloxone (caged naloxone), blocked the current induced by a series of agonists, and the time constant of decline was significantly decreased after desensitization. The increase in the rate of current decay was not observed after partial blockade of receptors with the irreversible antagonist, β-chlornaltrexamine (β-CNA). The time constant of current decay after desensitization was never more rapid than 1 second, suggesting an increased agonist off-rate rather than an increase in the rate of channel closure downstream of the receptor. The rate of G protein-coupled K(+) channel (GIRK) current activation was examined using photolysis of a caged agonist, carboxynitrobenzyl-tyrosine-[Leu(5)]-enkephalin. After acute desensitization or partial irreversible block of MORs with β-CNA, there was an increase in the time it took to reach a peak current. The decrease in the rate of agonist-induced GIRK conductance was receptor selective and dependent on receptor number. The results indicate that opioid receptor desensitization reduced the number of functional receptor and that the remaining active receptors have a reduced agonist affinity.
Copyright © 2014 by The American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.