The diversity of receptor signaling is increased by receptor heteromerization leading to dynamic regulation of receptor function. While a number of studies have demonstrated that family A G-protein-coupled receptors are capable of forming heteromers in vitro, the role of these heteromers in normal physiology and disease has been poorly explored. In this study, direct interactions between CB1 cannabinoid and delta opioid receptors in the brain were examined. Additionally, regulation of heteromer levels and signaling in a rodent model of neuropathic pain was explored. First we examined changes in the expression, function and interaction of these receptors in the cerebral cortex of rats with a peripheral nerve lesion that resulted in neuropathic pain. We found that, following the peripheral nerve lesion, the expression of both cannabinoid type 1 receptor (CB1R) and the delta opioid receptor (DOR) are increased in select brain regions. Concomitantly, an increase in CB1R activity and decrease in DOR activity was observed. We hypothesize that this decrease in DOR activity could be due to heteromeric interactions between these two receptors. Using a CB1R-DOR heteromer-specific antibody, we found increased levels of CB1R-DOR heteromer protein in the cortex of neuropathic animals. We subsequently examined the functionality of these heteromers by testing whether low, non-signaling doses of CB1R ligands influenced DOR signaling in the cortex. We found that, in cortical membranes from animals that experienced neuropathic pain, non-signaling doses of CB1R ligands significantly enhanced DOR activity. Moreover, this activity is selectively blocked by a heteromer-specific antibody. Together, these results demonstrate an important role for CB1R-DOR heteromers in altered cortical function of DOR during neuropathic pain. Moreover, they suggest the possibility that a novel heteromer-directed therapeutic strategy for enhancing DOR activity, could potentially be employed to reduce anxiety associated with chronic pain.
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