says Dr. Ryan Logan, Ph.D., an Associate Professor at Boston University’s School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA and senior author of the study.
Gene Pattern and Opioid Use
The study team analyzed the autopsy brain tissue from 20 subjects with OUD and chronic opioid use and 20 without a history of opioid use. Using RNA sequencing (RNAseq), they were able to identify different patterns of gene expression.
RNAseq of two of the brain areas strongly associated with addiction pathophysiology – the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens, showed that affected genes were divided into 2 groups where one group encoded for proinflammatory immune molecules and other were involved in remodeling of the extracellular matrix in people with OUD.
This suggests that connections between neurons may have been altered by opioid use along with higher levels of the microglia (brain’s resident immune cells) in OUD brains.
“We discovered several important molecular pathways that are integral in mediating the consequences of chronic opioid use on the brain. These molecules are responsible for shaping and maintaining the local environment required for neurons to function properly, as well as molecules critical for local inflammation that may impact the brain’s response to opioids. Together, these players represent new targets in both the pathology and treatment of opioid use disorder,” says, Dr. Logan.
The study thereby highlights that opioid dependency is associated with neuroinflammatory changes apart from changes in markers of neural response and plasticity in the brain.