Immune cell-derived beta-endorphin (END) and other opioid peptides elicit potent and clinically relevant inhibition of pain (analgesia) in inflamed tissue by activation of peripheral opioid receptors. Pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) is the polypeptide precursor of END and is processed by prohormone convertases (PCs). This study aims to decipher the processing of POMC in lymphocyte subsets in a rat model of unilateral painful hindpaw inflammation. Lymphocytes, isolated from popliteal lymph nodes, were separated into B-cells, T-cells, T-helper cells and cytotoxic T-cells using magnetic cell sorting, and were examined by polymerase chain reaction, immunofluorescence and radioimmunoassay. At 2 h of inflammation, POMC exon 2-3 mRNA was mostly expressed in B- but not in T-cells. Prohormone convertase 1 (PC1) mRNA and protein were upregulated in B-cells and T-helper cells. Prohormone convertase 2 (PC2) was expressed in T- and B-cells, both in inflamed and non-inflamed lymph nodes. END was expressed in B- but not in T-cells. We conclude that POMC, its processing enzymes and END are predominantly expressed in B-lymphocytes at 2 h of paw inflammation.
Keywords: Endorphin; Inflammation; Lymphocytes; Opioid; Pain; Prohormone convertase; Proopiomelanocortin.