Agonists at the μ-opioid receptor are known to produce potent analgesic responses in the clinical setting, therefore, an increased understanding of the molecular interactions of ligands at this receptor could lead to improved analgesics. As historically morphine has been shown to be a poor recruiter of β-arrestin in recombinant cell systems and this can be overcome by the co-expression of GRK2, we investigated the effects of GRK2 co-expression, in a recombinant μ-opioid receptor cell line, on ligand affinity and intrinsic activity in both β-arrestin recruitment and [35S]GTPγS binding assays. We also investigated the effect of receptor depletion in the β-arrestin assay. GRK2 co-expression increased both agonist Emax and potency in the β-arrestin assay. The increase in agonist potency could not be reversed using receptor depletion, supporting that the effects were due to a novel receptor conformation not system amplification. We also observed a small but significant effect on agonist KL values. Potency values in the [35S]GTPγS assay were unchanged; however, inverse agonist activity became evident with GRK2 co-expression. We conclude that this is direct evidence that the μ-opioid receptor is an allosteric protein and the co-expression of signalling molecules elicits changes in its conformation and thus ligand affinity. This has implications when describing how ligands interact with the receptor and how efficacy is determined. © 2013 Nickolls et al.
Nickolls, S. A., Humphreys, S., Clark, M., & McMurray, G. (2013). Co-expression of GRK2 reveals a novel conformational state of the μ-opioid receptor. PLoS ONE, 8(12). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0083691