Dietary Endorphins

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Endogenous Formation of Morphine in Human Cells (paper)

Chotima Poeaknapo, Jurgen Schmidt, Matthias Brandsch, Birgit Drager, and Meinhart H. Zenk (PNAS September 28, 2004, vol. 101, no. 39, 14091–14096) *Biocenter, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Weinbergweg 22, 06120 Halle, Germany; and †Leibniz Institute of Plant Biochemistry, Weinberg 3,06120 Halle, Germany

Morphine is a plant (opium poppy)-derived alkaloid and one of the strongest known analgesic compounds. Studies from several laboratories have suggested that animal and human tissue or fluid contain trace amounts of morphine. Its origin in mammals has been believed to be of dietary origin. Here, we address the question of whether morphine is of endogenous origin or derived from exogenous sources. Benzylisoquinoline alkaloids present in human neuroblastoma cells (SH-SY5Y) and human pancreas carcinoma cells (DAN-G) were identified by GC_tandem MS (MS_MS) as norlaudanosoline (DAN-G), reticuline (DAN-G and SH-SY5Y), and morphine (10 nM, SH-SY5Y). The stereochemistry of reticuline was determined to be 1-(S). Growth of the SH-SY5Y cell line in the presence of 18O2 led to the [18O]-labeled morphine that had the molecular weight 4 mass units higher than if grown in 16O2, indicating the presence of two atoms of 18O per molecule of morphine. Growth of DAN-G cells in an 18O2 atmosphere yielded norlaudanosoline and (S)-reticuline, both labeled at only two of the four oxygen atoms. This result clearly demonstrates that all three alkaloids are of biosynthetic origin and suggests that norlaudanosoline and (S)-reticuline are endogenous precursors of morphine. Feeding of [ring-13C6]-tyramine, [1-13C, N-13CH3]-(S)-reticuline and [N-CD3]-thebaine to the neuroblastoma cells led each to the position-specific labeling of morphine, as established by GC_MS_MS. Without doubt, human cells can produce the alkaloid morphine. The studies presented here serve as a platform for the exploration of the function of ‘‘endogenous morphine’’ in the neurosciences and immunosciences.

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