We have previously reported on the differential regulation of the human δ-opioid receptor (hDOR) by alkaloid (etorphine) and peptidic (DPDPE and deltorphin I) ligands, in terms of both receptor desensitization and post-endocytic sorting. Since ßarrestins are well known to regulate G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) signaling and trafficking, we therefore investigated the role of ßarrestin1 (the only isoform expressed in our cellular model) in the context of the hDOR. We established clonal cell lines of SK-N-BE cells over-expressing ßarrestin1, its dominant negative mutant (ßarrestin1(319-418)), and shRNA directed against endogenous ßarrestin1. Interestingly, both binding and confocal microscopy approaches demonstrated that ßarrestin1 is required for hDOR endocytosis only when activated by etorphine. Conversely, functional experiments revealed that ßarrestin1 is exclusively involved in hDOR desensitization promoted by the peptides. Taken together, these results provide substantial evidence for a ßarrestin1-biased agonism at hDOR, where ßarrestin1 is differentially involved during receptor desensitization and endocytosis depending on the ligand.
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