A fundamental question in G protein coupled receptor biology is how a single ligand acting at a specific receptor is able to induce a range of signaling that results in a variety of physiological responses. We focused on Type 1 cannabinoid receptor (CB 1R) as a model GPCR involved in a variety of processes spanning from analgesia and euphoria to neuronal development, survival and differentiation. We examined receptor dimerization as a possible mechanism underlying expanded signaling responses by a single ligand and focused on interactions between CB 1R and delta opioid receptor (DOR). Using co-immunoprecipitation assays as well as analysis of changes in receptor subcellular localization upon co-expression, we show that CB 1R and DOR form receptor heteromers. We find that heteromerization affects receptor signaling since the potency of the CB 1R ligand to stimulate G-protein activity is increased in the absence of DOR, suggesting that the decrease in CB 1R activity in the presence of DOR could, at least in part, be due to heteromerization. We also find that the decrease in activity is associated with enhanced PLC-dependent recruitment of arrestin3 to the CB 1R-DOR complex, suggesting that interaction with DOR enhances arrestin-mediated CB 1R desensitization. Additionally, presence of DOR facilitates signaling via a new CB 1R-mediated anti-apoptotic pathway leading to enhanced neuronal survival. Taken together, these results support a role for CB 1R-DOR heteromerization in diversification of endocannabinoid signaling and highlight the importance of heteromer-directed signal trafficking in enhancing the repertoire of GPCR signaling.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere29239
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
StatePublished - 3 Jan 2012


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