A role for heterodimerization of μ and δ opiate receptors in enhancing morphine analgesia

Ivone Gomes, Achla Gupta, Julija Filipovska, Hazel H. Szeto, John E. Pintar, Lakshmi A. Devi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

348 Scopus citations


Opiates such as morphine are the choice analgesic in the treatment of chronic pain. However their long-term use is limited because of the development of tolerance and dependence. Due to its importance in therapy, different strategies have been considered for making opiates such as morphine more effective, while curbing its liability to be abused. One such strategy has been to use a combination of drugs to improve the effectiveness of morphine. In particular, δ opioid receptor ligands have been useful in enhancing morphine's potency. The underlying molecular basis for these observations is not understood. We propose the modulation of receptor function by physical association between μ and δ opioid receptors as a potential mechanism. In support of this hypothesis, we show that μ-δ interacting complexes exist in live cells and native membranes and that the occupancy of δ receptors (by antagonists) is sufficient to enhance μ opioid receptor binding and signaling activity. Furthermore, δ receptor antagonists enhance morphine-mediated intrathecal analgesia. Thus, heterodimeric associations between μ-δ opioid receptors can be used as a model for the development of novel combination therapies for the treatment of chronic pain and other pathologies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5135-5139
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number14
StatePublished - Apr 6 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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