Oligomerization of MrgC11 and μ-opioid receptors in sensory neurons enhances morphine analgesia

Shao Qiu He, Qian Xu, Vinod Tiwari, Fei Yang, Michael Anderson, Zhiyong Chen, Shaness A. Grenald, Srinivasa N. Raja, Xinzhong Dong, Yun Guan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The μ-opioid receptor (MOR) agonist morphine is commonly used for pain management, but it has severe adverse effects and produces analgesic tolerance. Thus, alternative ways of stimulating MOR activity are needed. We found that MrgC11, a sensory neuron-specific G protein-coupled receptor, may form heteromeric complexes with MOR. Peptide-mediated activation of MrgC11 enhanced MOR recycling by inducing coendocytosis and sorting of MOR for membrane reinsertion. MrgC11 activation also inhibited the coupling of MOR to β -arrestin-2 and enhanced the morphine-dependent inhibition of cAMP production. Intrathecal coadministration of a low dose of an MrgC agonist potentiated acute morphine analgesia and reduced chronic morphine tolerance in wild-type mice but not in Mrg-cluster knockout (Mrg KO) mice. BAM22, a bivalent agonist of MrgC and opioid receptors, enhanced the interaction between MrgC11 and MOR and produced stronger analgesia than did the individual monovalent agonists. Morphine-induced neuronal and pain inhibition was reduced in Mrg KO mice compared to that in wild-type mice. Our results uncover MrgC11-MOR interactions that lead to positive functional modulation of MOR. MrgC shares genetic homogeneity and functional similarity with human MrgX1. Thus, harnessing this positive modulation of MOR function by Mrg signaling may enhance morphine analgesia in a sensory neuron- specific fashion to limit central side effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbereaao3134
JournalScience signaling
Issue number535
StatePublished - Jun 19 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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