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Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) have been reported to interact with the opioid system, but their pharmacological activity at opioid receptors has not yet been elucidated. In the present study, we investigated the actions of amoxapine, amitriptyline, nortriptyline, desipramine, and imipramine at distinct cloned and native opioid receptors. In Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells expressing delta-opioid receptors (CHO/DOR), TCAs displaced [3H]naltrindole binding and stimulated guanosine 5'-O-(3-[(35)S]thio)triphosphate ([(35)S]GTPgammaS) binding at micromolar concentrations with amoxapine displaying the highest potency and efficacy. Amoxapine and amitriptyline inhibited cyclic AMP formation and induced the phosphorylation of signaling molecules along the extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2) and phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase pathways. Amoxapine also activated delta-opioid receptors in rat dorsal striatum and nucleus accumbens and human frontal cortex. In CHO cells expressing kappa-opioid receptors (CHO/KOR), TCAs, but not amoxapine, exhibited higher receptor affinity and more potent stimulation of [(35)S]GTPgammaS binding than in CHO/DOR and effectively inhibited cyclic AMP accumulation. Amitriptyline regulated ERK1/2 phosphorylation and activity in CHO/KOR and C6 glioma cells endogenously expressing kappa-opioid receptors, and this effect was attenuated by the kappa-opioid antagonist nor-binaltorphimine. In rat nucleus accumbens, amitriptyline slightly inhibited adenylyl cyclase activity and counteracted the inhibitory effect of the full kappa agonist trans-(-)-3,4dichloro-N-methyl-N-[2-(1-pyrrolidinyl)cyclohexyl]benzeneacetamide (U50,488). At the cloned mu-opioid receptor, TCAs showed low affinity and no significant agonist activity. These results show that TCAs differentially regulate opioid receptors with a preferential agonist activity on either delta or kappa subtypes and suggest that this property may contribute to their therapeutic and/or side effects.


Pierluigi Onali, Simona Dedoni, Maria C Olianas. Direct agonist activity of tricyclic antidepressants at distinct opioid receptor subtypes. The Journal of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics. 2010 Jan;332(1):255-65

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PMID: 19828880

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