Long-term interactions between opioid and cannabinoid agonists at the cellular level: Cross-desensitization and downregulation

Ma'anit Shapira, Mikhal Gafni, Yosef Sarne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the present study we investigated long-term interactions between opioid and cannabinoid drugs at several steps along their cellular signal transduction pathways. For this purpose we co-transfected HEK-293 and COS-7 cells with δ-opioid (DOR) and CB1-cannabinoid receptors, and examined the effect of prolonged exposure to either opioid (etorphine) or cannabinoid (DALN) agonists on DOR and CB-1 receptor density and on the ability of subsequent application of the agonists to activate G-proteins (as measured by [35S]GTPγS binding) and to inhibit cAMP production. In HEK-293 cells, etorphine induced both homologous and heterologous desensitization, while DALN induced only homologous desensitization. This asymmetric cross-desensitization coincided with asymmetric cross downregulation: etorphine downregulated the binding of the cannabinoid ligand [3H]CP55,940, while DALN failed to reduce the binding of the opioid ligand [3H]diprenorphine. In contrast to the asymmetric desensitization in HEK-293 cells, COS-7 cells presented a two-way cross-desensitization between opioid and cannabinoid agonists, and DALN downregulated the binding of [3H]diprenorphine in these cells. Thus, a complete correlation was found between downregulation and reduction in cell responsiveness ('desensitization'). Moreover, when opioid downregulation in HEK-293 cells was inhibited by either hypertonic sucrose solution or protein kinase inhibitors, desensitization was suppressed to the same extent. These results suggest that, under the present experimental conditions, the reduction in cell responsiveness resulted primarily from downregulation of the receptors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)190-200
Number of pages11
JournalBrain Research
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 17 Jan 2003


  • Adenylyl-cyclase
  • Cannabinoid-receptor
  • Desensitization
  • Downregulation
  • GTP-binding protein
  • Opioid-receptor


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