Change in functional selectivity of morphine with the development of antinociceptive tolerance

T. A. Macey, E. N. Bobeck, K. L. Suchland, M. M. Morgan, S. L. Ingram

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Background and Purpose Opioids, such as morphine, are the most effective treatment for pain but their efficacy is diminished with the development of tolerance following repeated administration. Recently, we found that morphine activated ERK in opioid-tolerant but not in naïve rats, suggesting that morphine activation of μ-opioid receptors is altered following repeated morphine administration. Here, we have tested the hypothesis that μ-opioid receptor activation of ERK in the ventrolateral periaqueductal gray (vlPAG) is dependent on dynamin, a protein implicated in receptor endocytosis.

Experimental Approach Rats were made tolerant to repeated microinjections of morphine into the vlPAG. The effects of dynamin on ERK activation and antinociception were assessed by microinjecting myristoylated dominant-negative dynamin peptide (Dyn-DN) or a scrambled control peptide into the vlPAG. Microinjection of a fluorescent dermorphin analogue (DERM-A594) into the vlPAG was used to monitor μ-opioid receptor internalization.

Key Results Morphine did not activate ERK and Dyn-DN administration had no effect on morphine-induced antinociception in saline-pretreated rats. In contrast, morphine-induced ERK activation in morphine-pretreated rats that was blocked by Dyn-DN administration. Dyn-DN also inhibited morphine antinociception. Finally, morphine reduced DERM-A594 internalization only in morphine-tolerant rats indicating that μ-opioid receptors were internalized and unavailable to bind DERM-A594.

Conclusions and Implications Repeated morphine administration increased μ-opioid receptor activation of ERK signalling via a dynamin-dependent mechanism. These results demonstrate that the balance of agonist signalling to G-protein and dynamin-dependent pathways is altered, effectively changing the functional selectivity of the agonist-receptor complex.

Linked Articles This article is part of a themed section on Opioids: New Pathways to Functional Selectivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)549-561
Number of pages13
JournalBritish Journal of Pharmacology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • ERK
  • endocytosis
  • functional selectivity
  • ligand bias
  • morphine
  • morphine tolerance
  • opiate
  • opioid
  • periaqueductal gray

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology


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