, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp 260-269
Date: 08 Jul 2006

Opioid Receptors and Signaling on Cells from the Immune System

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This review discusses the criteria for determining whether a binding site or functional response is directly mediated by either the mu, delta, or kappa opioid receptors. In 1988, Sibinga and Goldstein published the first review that addressed whether cells from the immune system express opioid receptors. The criteria that they used, namely, structure–activity relationships, stereoselectivity, dose- and concentration-dependence, and saturability are still relevant criteria today for determining if an immunological response is mediated by either the mu, delta or kappa opioid receptors. Radioligand receptor binding studies and functional studies that clearly show the presence of an opioid receptor on immunocytes are presented. Selective agonists and antagonists for the mu, delta, and kappa opioid receptors are discussed, and the need for their use in experiments is emphasized. Conditions used in functional assays are very important. Receptor desensitization and downregulation occur within minutes after the application of an agonist. However, many immunological assays are applying an agonist for days before measuring an immunological effect. The results obtained may reflect changes that are results of receptor desensitization and/or downregulation instead of changes that are observed with acute activation of the receptor. The future of receptor pharmacology lies in the crosstalk and dimerization of G protein-coupled receptors. In transfected systems, opioid receptors have been shown to dimerize with chemokine and cannabinoid receptors, resulting in crosstalk between different types of receptors.