April 12, 2021

Opioid withdrawal produces sex-specific effects on fentanyl-vs.-food choice and mesolimbic transcription

Background: Opioid withdrawal is a key driver of opioid addiction and an obstacle to recovery. However, withdrawal effects on opioid reinforcement and mesolimbic neuroadaptation are understudied and the role of sex is largely unknown. Methods: Male (n=10) and female (n=9) rats responded under a fentanyl-vs.-food choice procedure during daily 2h sessions. In addition to the daily choice sessions, rats were provided extended access to fentanyl during 12h sessions. After two weeks of this self-administration regimen, the nucleus accumbens (NAc) and ventral tegmental area (VTA) of a subset of rats were subjected to RNA sequencing. In the remaining rats, a third week of this self-administration regimen was conducted, during which methadone effects on fentanyl-vs.-food choice were determined. Results: Prior to opioid dependence, male and female rats similarly allocated responding between fentanyl and food. Abstinence from extended fentanyl access elicited a similar increase in somatic withdrawal signs in both sexes. Despite similar withdrawal signs and extended access fentanyl intake, opioid withdrawal was accompanied by a maladaptive increase in fentanyl choice in males, but not females. Behavioral sex differences corresponded with transcriptional hyperfunction in the NAc and VTA of opioid-withdrawn females relative to males. Methadone blocked withdrawal-associated increases in fentanyl choice in males, but failed to further decrease fentanyl choice in females. Conclusions: These results provide foundational evidence of sex-specific neuroadaptations to opioid withdrawal, which may be relevant to the female-specific resilience to withdrawal-associated increases in opioid choice and aid in the identification of novel therapeutic targets.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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