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Differential desensitization of pre- and postsynaptic mu opioid receptors regulating proopiomelanocortin neurons of the arcuate nucleus




Pennock, Reagan L., author
Hentges, Shane, advisor
Tamkun, Michael, committee member
Vigh, Jozsef, committee member
Krapf, Diego, committee member

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The mu opioid receptor (MOR) is the primary target of powerful opiate analgesics such as morphine and codeine. Repeated use of opiates, as may occur in patients with chronic pain, leads to the development of tolerance to the drugs' analgesic effects and may result in the development of dependence. This reduces the effectiveness of opiate-based treatments over extended periods of time, and can result in withdrawal when such a treatment is terminated. Many years of study have been dedicated to understanding the processes that lead to the development of tolerance, as an understanding of the mechanisms underlying tolerance could lead the development of novel therapeutic strategies that prolong the efficacy of opioid-based pain treatments. One particular area of focus has been on acute desensitization of the MOR. Studies of acute desensitization, defined as the loss of receptor function that occurs in the seconds to minutes following activation with an agonist, largely focus on the attenuation of desensitization of desensitization-susceptible MORs found on the somato-dendritic region of neurons in various parts of the nervous system. In these studies, we will focus on characterizing desensitization-resistant MORs located on the axon terminal region of GABAergic neurons that form synapses with hypothalamic proopiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons. Activation of presynaptic MORs, as well as other Gαi/o-coupled GPCRs located on presynaptic terminals, results in an inhibition of GABA release, which causes a subsequent inhibition of the amplitude or frequency of inhibitory postsynaptic currents (IPSCs). Our findings demonstrate that apparent resistance to desensitization by presynaptic MORs, measured as a sustained inhibition of IPSC amplitude or frequency, cannot be explained by a large receptor reserve, nor can desensitization become detectable after chronic treatment with the opiate morphine. It was also found that resistance to desensitization is a common, but not universal, property of Gαi/o-coupled G-protein coupled receptors located on presynaptic terminals. Comparison of desensitization-resistant MORs with desensitization-susceptible GABAB receptors revealed that both populations of receptors have similar receptor-effector coupling, and that resistance or susceptibility to desensitization is unaffected by experimental conditions that isolate either Ca2+-independent spontaneous release or Ca2+-dependent synchronous release. These findings provide evidence that resistance or susceptibility to desensitization is not dependent on particular receptor-effector coupling, and is likely receptor delimited. The previous findings suggest that resistance to desensitization by the MOR may be conferred by altered physical properties of presynaptic receptors relative to their postsynaptic counterparts. A likely way that these physical differences could manifest would be through differential mobility of pre- and postsynaptic receptors. To provide proof of principle that such measurements can be made, single-particle tracking of MORs containing an N-terminal FLAG tag was performed the AtT20 cell line. MOR diffusion was measured before and after activation with a maximal, desensitizing concentration of the full MOR agonist DAMGO. In the absence of DAMGO, FLAG-MORs could be found in either a mobile or immobile state. After ten minutes in the presence of DAMGO the fraction of immobile FLAG-MORs was increased, but both mobile and immobile receptors were still present. Because ten minutes in a maximal concentration of DAMGO is sufficient to cause MOR desensitization to reach a maximum and for the internalization of most desensitized receptors to occur, the findings demonstrate that steady-state signaling of the MOR may be maintained by both mobile and immobile receptors. These findings provide a basis for future studies comparing the mobility of pre- and postsynaptic MORs in neurons, as well as determining the role of mobile and immobile MORs in signaling pathways recruited by the receptor.


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