Rat-1 fibroblasts were transfected with a cDNA encoding the mouse Δ opioid receptor. Two separate clones, D2 (which expressed some 6 pmol of the receptor/mg of membrane protein) and DOE (which expressed some 0.2 pmol/mg of membrane protein), were examined in detail. With membranes from both clones, the opioid agonist [D-Ala2]leucine enkephalin (DADLE) caused stimulation of high-affinity GTPase activity and of the binding of guanosine 5´-[γ-[35S]thio]triphosphate, and inhibition of forskolin-amplified adenylate cyclase activity. DADLE also induced phosphorylation and activation of both the p42MAPK (42 kDa isoform) and p44MAPK (44 kDa isoform) members of the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAP kinase) family. All of these effects of DADLE were prevented in both clones by pretreatment of the cells with pertussis toxin. The maximal response that could be produced by DADLE in direct assays of G-protein activation were substantially greater in clone D2 than in clone DOE, but in both clones essentially full phosphorylation of both p42MAPK and p44MAPK could be achieved. EC50 values for DADLE stimulation of GTPase activity and for activation of p44MAPK were substantially lower in clone D2 than in clone DOE. Moreover, in both clones the EC50 value for DADLE stimulation of p44MAPK was substantially lower than that for stimulation of GTPase activity, and the Hill coefficients for agonist activation of p44MAPK (h > 1) displayed marked co-operativity whereas those for G-protein activation did not (h 0.8–1.0). DADLE activation of p44MAPK showed more sustained kinetics in clone D2 than in clone DOE. By contrast, lysophosphatidic acid, acting at an endogenously expressed G-protein-coupled receptor, also activated p44MAPK in both clones in a pertussis toxin-sensitive manner, but both the kinetics and the concentration–response curve for activation of p44MAPK by this ligand were similar. As with other systems, maintained cellular levels of a cAMP analogue prevented the effects of both G-protein-coupled receptors on activation of p44MAPK. These results demonstrate for the first time that an opioid receptor, at least when expressed in Rat-1 fibroblasts, is able to initiate activation of the MAP kinase cascade in a Gi-dependent manner, and show that only a very small proportion of the cellular Gi population is required to be activated to result in full phosphorylation of the p42MAPK and p44MAPK MAP kinases.

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