A Caged Enkephalin Optimized for Simultaneously Probing Mu and Delta Opioid Receptors

ACS Chem Neurosci. 2018 Apr 18;9(4):684-690. doi: 10.1021/acschemneuro.7b00485. Epub 2017 Dec 27.


Physiological responses to the opioid neuropeptide enkephalin often involve both mu and delta opioid receptors. To facilitate quantitative studies into opioid signaling, we previously developed a caged [Leu5]-enkephalin that responds to ultraviolet irradiation, but its residual activity at delta receptors confounds experiments that involve both receptors. To reduce residual activity, we evaluated side-chain, N-terminus, and backbone caging sites and further incorporated the dimethoxy-nitrobenzyl moiety to improve sensitivity to ultraviolet light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Residual activity was characterized using an in vitro functional assay, and the power dependence and kinetics of the uncaging response to 355 nm laser irradiation were assayed using electrophysiological recordings of mu opioid receptor-mediated potassium currents in brain slices of rat locus coeruleus. These experiments identified N-MNVOC-LE as an optimal compound. Using ultraviolet LED illumination to photoactivate N-MNVOC-LE in the CA1 region of hippocampus, we found that enkephalin engages both mu and delta opioid receptors to suppress inhibitory synaptic transmission.

Keywords: Caged compounds; neuropeptides; neurophysiology; opioid receptors; potassium channels; synaptic transmission.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Enkephalin, Ala(2)-MePhe(4)-Gly(5)- / pharmacology
  • Enkephalins / pharmacology*
  • Hippocampus / drug effects
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Potassium Channels / drug effects
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Opioid, delta / drug effects*
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu / drug effects*
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects*


  • Enkephalins
  • Potassium Channels
  • Receptors, Opioid, delta
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu
  • Enkephalin, Ala(2)-MePhe(4)-Gly(5)-