Dual role of osteoblastic proenkephalin derived peptides in skeletal tissues

Haim Rosen, Zvi Bar‐Shavit*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Proenkephalin encodes a group of small peptides with opiate‐like activity, the endogenous opioids, known to function as neurohormones, neuromodulators, and neurotransmitters. Recently, we have demonstrated that in addition to its abundance in fetal brain tissue, proenkephalin is highly expressed in nondifferentiated mesodermal cells of developing fetuses. We identified the skeletal tissues, bone, and cartilage as major sites of proenkephalin expression. To examine the possibility that proenkephalin is involved in bone development we have studied the expression of this gene in bone‐derived cells, its modulation by bone active hormones, and the effects of enkephalin‐derived peptides on osteoblastic phenotype. Our studies revealed that osteoblastic cells synthesize high levels of proenkephalin mRNA which are translated, and the derived peptides are secreted. Reciprocal interrelationships between osteoblast maturation and proenkephalin expression were established. These results together with our observations demonstrating inhibitory effects of proenkephalin‐derived peptides on osteoblastic alkaline phosphatase activity, strongly support the notion that proenkephalin is involved in bone development. A different direction of research by other investigators has established the capability of the opioid system in the periphery to participate in the control of pain. On the basis of these two lines of observation, we would like to present the following hypothesis: The potential of embryonic skeletal tissue to synthesize proenkephalin‐derived peptides is retained in the adult in small defined undifferentiated cell populations. This potential is realized in certain situations requiring rapid growth, such as remodeling or fracture repair. We suggest that in these processes, similarly to the situation in the embryo, the undifferentiated dividing cells produce the endogenous opioids. In the adult these peptides may have a dual function, namely participating in the control of tissue regeneration and in the control of pain. © 1994 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)334-339
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Cellular Biochemistry
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1994


  • analgesia
  • bone development
  • gene expression
  • opioids
  • tissue regeneration


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