Recent developments in the study of the structure and function of opioid receptors raise significant challenges for the definition of individual receptor types and the development of a nomenclature that precisely describes isoforms that may subserve different functions in vivo. Presentations at the 2013 meeting of the International Narcotics Research Conference in Cairns, Australia, considered some of the new discoveries that are now unravelling the complexities of opioid receptor signalling. Variable processing of opioid receptor messenger RNAs may lead to the presence of several isoforms of the μ receptor. Each opioid receptor type can function either as a monomer or as part of a homo- or heterodimer or higher multimer. Additionally, recent evidence points to the existence of agonist bias in the signal transduction pathways activated through μ receptors, and to the presence of regulatory allosteric sites on the receptors. This brief review summarizes the recent discoveries that raise challenges for receptor definition and the characterization of signal transduction pathways activated by specific receptor forms.
This article is part of a themed section on Opioids: New Pathways to Functional Selectivity. To view the other articles in this section visit http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/bph.2015.172.issue-2