Opioids target the μ-opioid receptor (MOR) to produce unrivaled pain management, but their addictive properties can lead to severe abuse. We developed a whole-animal behavioral platform for unbiased discovery of genes influencing opioid responsiveness. Using forward genetics in Caenorhabditis elegans, we identified a conserved orphan receptor, GPR139, with anti-opioid activity. GPR139 is coexpressed with MOR in opioid-sensitive brain circuits, binds to MOR, and inhibits signaling to heterotrimeric guanine nucleotide-binding proteins (G proteins). Deletion of GPR139 in mice enhanced opioid-induced inhibition of neuronal firing to modulate morphine-induced analgesia, reward, and withdrawal. Thus, GPR139 could be a useful target for increasing opioid safety. These results also demonstrate the potential of C. elegans as a scalable platform for genetic discovery of G protein-coupled receptor signaling principles.
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