Differential desensitization of mu- and delta- opioid receptors in selected neural pathways following chronic morphine treatment

Br J Pharmacol. 1996 Jan;117(1):161-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1476-5381.1996.tb15169.x.


1. Morphine produces a plethora of pharmacological effects and its chronic administration induces several side-effects. The cellular mechanisms by which opiates induce these side-effects are not fully understood. Several studies suggest that regulation of adenylyl cyclase activity by opioids and other transmitters plays an important role in the control of neural function. 2. The aim of this study was to evaluate desensitization of mu- and delta- opioid receptors, defined as a reduced ability of opioid agonists to inhibit adenylyl cyclase activity, in four different brain structures known to be involved in opiate drug actions: caudate putamen, nucleus accumbens, thalamus and periaqueductal gray (PAG). Opiate regulation of adenylyl cyclase in these regions has been studied in control and morphine-dependent rats. 3. The chronic morphine treatment used in the present study (subcutaneous administration of 15.4 mg morphine/rat/day for 6 days via osmotic pump) induced significant physical dependence as indicated by naloxone-precipitated withdrawal symptoms. 4. Basal adenylyl cyclase in the four brain regions was not modified by this chronic morphine treatment. In the PAG and the thalamus, a desensitization of mu- and delta-opioid receptors was observed, characterized by a reduced ability of Tyr-D-Ala-Gly-(NMe)Phe-Gly-ol (DAMGO; mu), Tyr-D-Pen-Gly-Phe-D-Pen (DPDPE; delta) and [D-Ala2]-deltorphin-II (DT-II; delta) to inhibit adenylyl cyclase, activity following chronic morphine treatment. 5. The opioid receptor desensitization in PAG and thalamus appeared to be heterologous since the metabotropic glutamate receptor agonists, L-AP4 and glutamate, and the 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT)1A receptor agonist, R(+)-8-hydroxy-2-(di-n-propylamino)tetralin hydrobromide (8-OH-DPAT), also showed reduced inhibition of adenylyl cyclase activity following chronic morphine treatment. 6. In the nucleus accumbens and the caudate putamen, desensitization of delta-opioid receptor-mediated inhibition without modification of mu-opioid receptor-mediated inhibition was observed. An indirect mechanism probably involving dopaminergic systems is proposed to explain the desensitization of delta-mediated responses and the lack of mu-opioid receptor desensitization after chronic morphine treatment in caudate putamen and nucleus accumbens. 7. These results suggest that adaptive responses occurring during chronic morphine administration are not identical in all opiate-sensitive neural populations.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • 8-Hydroxy-2-(di-n-propylamino)tetralin / pharmacology
  • Adenylyl Cyclases / metabolism*
  • Aminobutyrates / pharmacology
  • Analgesics / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Caudate Nucleus / drug effects
  • Caudate Nucleus / physiopathology
  • Enkephalin, Ala(2)-MePhe(4)-Gly(5)-
  • Enkephalin, D-Penicillamine (2,5)-
  • Enkephalins / pharmacology
  • Glutamic Acid / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Morphine / pharmacology*
  • Morphine Dependence / physiopathology*
  • Naloxone
  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Nucleus Accumbens / drug effects
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiopathology
  • Oligopeptides / pharmacology
  • Periaqueductal Gray / drug effects
  • Periaqueductal Gray / physiopathology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Opioid, delta / drug effects*
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu / drug effects*
  • Serotonin Receptor Agonists / pharmacology
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome
  • Thalamus / drug effects
  • Thalamus / physiopathology


  • Aminobutyrates
  • Analgesics
  • Enkephalins
  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Oligopeptides
  • Receptors, Opioid, delta
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu
  • Serotonin Receptor Agonists
  • Enkephalin, Ala(2)-MePhe(4)-Gly(5)-
  • deltorphin II, Ala(2)-
  • Naloxone
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Morphine
  • 8-Hydroxy-2-(di-n-propylamino)tetralin
  • Enkephalin, D-Penicillamine (2,5)-
  • Adenylyl Cyclases
  • 2-amino-4-phosphonobutyric acid