The Journal of biological chemistry

Activation of mu-opioid receptors transfers control of Galpha subunits to the regulator of G-protein signaling RGS9-2: role in receptor desensitization.

PMID 15632124


In mouse periaqueductal gray matter (PAG) membranes, the mu-opioid receptor (MOR) coprecipitated the alpha-subunits of the Gi/o/z/q/11 proteins, the Gbeta1/2 subunits, and the regulator of G-protein signaling RGS9-2 and its partner protein Gbeta5. RGS7 and RGS11 present in this neural structure showed no association with MOR. In vivo intracerebroventricular injection of morphine did not alter MOR immunoreactivity, but 30 min and 3 h after administration, the coprecipitation of Galpha subunits with MORs was reduced by up to 50%. Furthermore, the association between Galpha subunits and RGS9-2 proteins was increased. Twenty-four hours after receiving intracerebroventricular morphine, the Galpha subunits left the RGS9-2 proteins and re-associated with the MORs. However, doses of the opioid able to induce tolerance promoted the stable transfer of Galpha subunits to the RGS9-2 control. This was accompanied by Ser phosphorylation of RGS9-2 proteins, which increased their co-precipitation with 14-3-3 proteins. In the PAG membranes of morphine-desensitized mice, the capacity of the opioid to stimulate G-protein-related guanosine 5'-O-(3-[35S]thiotriphosphate) binding as well as low Km GTPase activity was attenuated. The in vivo knockdown of RGS9-2 expression prevented morphine from altering the association between MORs and G-proteins, and tolerance did not develop. In PAG membranes from RGS9-2 knockdown mice, morphine showed full capacity to activate G-proteins. Thus, the tolerance that develops following an adequate dose of morphine is caused by the stabilization and retention of MOR-activated Galpha subunits by RGS9-2 proteins. This multistep process is initiated by the morphine-induced transfer of MOR-associated Galpha subunits to the RGS9-2 proteins, followed by Ser phosphorylation of the latter and their binding to 14-3-3 proteins. This regulatory mechanism probably precedes the loss of MORs from the cell membrane, which has been observed with other opioid agonists.