Neuropeptides induce signal transduction across the plasma membrane by acting through cell-surface receptors. The dynorphins, endogenous ligands for opioid receptors, are an exception; they also produce non-receptor-mediated effects causing pain and neurodegeneration. To understand non-receptor mechanism(s), we examined interactions of dynorphins with plasma membrane. Using fluorescence correlation spectroscopy and patch-clamp electrophysiology, we demonstrate that dynorphins accumulate in the membrane and induce a continuum of transient increases in ionic conductance. This phenomenon is consistent with stochastic formation of giant (similar to 2.7 nm estimated diameter) unstructured non-ion-selective membrane pores. The potency of dynorphins to porate the plasma membrane correlates with their pathogenic effects in cellular and animal models. Membrane poration by dynorphins may represent a mechanism of pathological signal transduction. Persistent neuronal excitation by this mechanism may lead to profound neuropathological alterations, including neurodegeneration and cell death.
2015. Vol. 6, e1683