PloS one

μ-Opioid receptor antibody reveals tissue-dependent specific staining and increased neuronal μ-receptor immunoreactivity at the injured nerve trunk in mice.

PMID 24278116


Neuropathic pain is a debilitating chronic disease often resulting from damage to peripheral nerves. Activation of opioid receptors on peripheral sensory neurons can attenuate pain without central nervous system side effects. Here we aimed to analyze the distribution of neuronal μ-opioid receptors, the most relevant opioid receptors in the control of clinical pain, along the peripheral neuronal pathways in neuropathy. Hence, following a chronic constriction injury of the sciatic nerve in mice, we used immunohistochemistry to quantify the μ-receptor protein expression in the dorsal root ganglia (DRG), directly at the injured nerve trunk, and at its peripheral endings in the hind paw skin. We also thoroughly examined the μ-receptor antibody staining specificity. We found that the antibody specifically labeled μ-receptors in human embryonic kidney 293 cells as well as in neuronal processes of the sciatic nerve and hind paw skin dermis, but surprisingly not in the DRG, as judged by the use of μ/δ/κ-opioid receptor knockout mice. Therefore, a reliable quantitative analysis of μ-receptor expression in the DRG was not possible. However, we demonstrate that the μ-receptor immunoreactivity was strongly enhanced proximally to the injury at the nerve trunk, but was unaltered in paws, on days 2 and 14 following injury. Thus, μ-opioid receptors at the site of axonal damage might be a promising target for the control of painful neuropathies. Furthermore, our findings suggest a rigorous tissue-dependent characterization of antibodies' specificity, preferably using knockout animals.