Brain connection patterns may predict relapse in opioid use disorder



A major obstacle to addressing the U.S. opioid crisis is the high rate of relapse among people combating addiction to opioid medications. In order to learn more about how to prevent relapse, it will be important to identify new neurobiological mechanisms in preclinical animal models that mimic features of relapse in humans.


A team of IRP researchers led by Pei-Jung Tsai, Ph.D., and Ida Fredriksson, Ph.D., Pharm.D., examined brain activity while at rest in rats that had been trained to self-administer opioid drugs in order to study ‘incubation’ of craving for opioids, a phenomenon in which the craving for the drug increases over time during a period of abstinence. The scientists’ neuroimaging study revealed that changes in the functional connectivity of two brain regions, the orbitofrontal cortex and the dorsal striatum, predicted the ‘incubated’ relapse- and craving-related behavioral responses in the animals.


The changes in the animals’ brain connectivity discovered by the IRP researchers may reflect individual differences in vulnerability to relapse. As such, the same brain connectivity changes could potentially be used to predict risk for opioid relapse in human patients and provide potential targets for new treatments for opioid use disorder.


Fredriksson I, Tsai PJ, Shekara A, Duan Y, Applebey SV, Lu H, Bossert JM, Shaham Y, Yang Y. (2021). Orbitofrontal cortex and dorsal striatum functional connectivity predicts incubation of opioid craving after voluntary abstinence. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. Oct 26; 118(43):e2106624118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2106624118.

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This page was last updated on Thursday, June 8, 2023