Inflammatory process alteration accompanies opioid use disor
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Researchers have conducted the largest transcriptomic (the study of all the RNA molecules within a cell) study to date using postmortem brains from people with opioid use disorder (OUD). Their findings show, for the first time, a critical role for neuroinflammation as the driver of the pathological brain alterations produced by chronic opioid use. They also identify microglia as the cell type responsible for many of these changes.

Prevalence rates of opioid use disorder (OUD) have increased dramatically, accompanied by a surge of overdose deaths—nearly 50,000 in the U.S. in 2019.

To investigate the molecular changes in the human brain associated with opioid dependence, the researchers used transcriptomic and computational approaches to examine gene changes in the prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens and discovered changes associated with inflammation and synaptic structure/function in the brains of people who are diagnosed with OUD.

"The data reveal a new mechanism by which opioids may alter the brains' structure to change synaptic plasticity, ultimately resulting in behavioral changes," said the author.

According to the researchers, inflammation in the brain is related to several psychiatric disorders and neurological disorders including neurodegeneration and aging-related brain diseases. "Our findings highlight the potential role for activation of specific inflammatory pathways in the brain and their interplay in brain processes related to cognition, impulsivity, risk-taking, and substance use," he added.

In summary, the researcher believes this work offers a new context for neuroinflammatory actions in the human brain that may explain how opioids produce circuit dysfunction.

Biological Psychiatry
Source: https://www.biologicalpsychiatryjournal.com/article/S0006-3223(21)01369-X/fulltext
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