Agonist-specific regulation of μ-opioid receptor desensitization and recovery from desensitization

Michael S. Virk, John T. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Agonist-selective actions of opioids on the desensitization of μ-opioid receptors (MORs) have been well characterized, but few if any studies have examined agonist-dependent recovery from desensitization. The outward potassium current induced by several opioids was studied using whole-cell voltage-clamp recordings in locus ceruleus neurons. A brief application of the irreversible opioid antagonist β-chlornaltrexamine (β-CNA) was applied immediately after treatment of slices with saturating concentrations of opioid agonists. This approach permitted the measurement of desensitization and recovery from desensitization using multiple opioid agonists, including [Met] 5enkephalin (ME), [D-Ala2,N-Me-Phe4,Gly 5-ol]-enkephalin (DAMGO), etorphine, fentanyl, methadone, morphine, morphine-6-glucuronide, oxycodone, and oxymorphone. The results indicate that desensitization protects receptors from irreversible antagonism with β-CNA. The amount of desensitization was measured as the decrease in current during a 10-min application of a saturating agonist concentration and was a good predictor of the extent of receptor protection from irreversible inactivation with β-CNA. After desensitization with ME or DAMGO and treatment with β-CNA, there was an initial profound inhibition of MOR-induced current that recovered significantly after 45 min. There was, however, no recovery of MOR-mediated current with time after treatment with agonists that did not cause desensitization, such as oxycodone. These results demonstrate that desensitization prevents irreversible inactivation of receptors by β-CNA.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1301-1308
Number of pages8
JournalMolecular pharmacology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology


Dive into the research topics of 'Agonist-specific regulation of μ-opioid receptor desensitization and recovery from desensitization'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this