Pharmacological and genetic manipulations at the µ-opioid receptor reveal arrestin-3 engagement limits analgesic tolerance and does not exacerbate respiratory depression in mice

Li He, Sarah W. Gooding, Elinor Lewis, Lindsey C. Felth, Anirudh Gaur, Jennifer L. Whistler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations

Abstract

Opioid drugs are widely used analgesics that activate the G protein-coupled µ-opioid receptor, whose endogenous neuropeptide agonists, endorphins and enkephalins, are potent pain relievers. The therapeutic utility of opioid drugs is hindered by development of tolerance to the analgesic effects, requiring dose escalation for persistent pain control and leading to overdose and fatal respiratory distress. The prevailing hypothesis is that the intended analgesic effects of opioid drugs are mediated by µ-opioid receptor signaling to G protein, while the side-effects of respiratory depression and analgesic tolerance are caused by engagement of the receptor with the arrestin-3 protein. Consequently, opioid drug development has focused exclusively on identifying agonists devoid of arrestin-3 engagement. Here, we challenge the prevailing hypothesis with a panel of six clinically relevant opioid drugs and mice of three distinct genotypes with varying abilities to promote morphine-mediated arrestin-3 engagement. With this genetic and pharmacological approach, we demonstrate that arrestin-3 recruitment does not impact respiratory depression, and effective arrestin-3 engagement reduces, rather than exacerbates, the development of analgesic tolerance. These studies suggest that future development of safer opioids should focus on identifying opioid ligands that recruit both G protein and arrestin-3, thereby mimicking the signaling profile of most endogenous µ-opioid receptor agonists.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalNeuropsychopharmacology
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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