MicroRNA–mRNA networks are dysregulated in opioid use disorder postmortem brain: Further evidence for opioid-induced neurovascular alterations

Sandra L. Grimm, Emily F. Mendez, Laura Stertz, Thomas D. Meyer, Gabriel R. Fries, Tanmay Gandhi, Rupa Kanchi, Sudhakar Selvaraj, Antonio L. Teixeira, Thomas R. Kosten, Preethi Gunaratne, Cristian Coarfa, Consuelo Walss-Bass

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Introduction: To understand mechanisms and identify potential targets for intervention in the current crisis of opioid use disorder (OUD), postmortem brains represent an under-utilized resource. To refine previously reported gene signatures of neurobiological alterations in OUD from the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (Brodmann Area 9, BA9), we explored the role of microRNAs (miRNA) as powerful epigenetic regulators of gene function. Methods: Building on the growing appreciation that miRNAs can cross the blood-brain barrier, we carried out miRNA profiling in same-subject postmortem samples from BA9 and blood tissues. Results: miRNA–mRNA network analysis showed that even though miRNAs identified in BA9 and blood were fairly distinct, their target genes and corresponding enriched pathways overlapped strongly. Among the dominant enriched biological processes were tissue development and morphogenesis, and MAPK signaling pathways. These findings point to robust, redundant, and systemic opioid-induced miRNA dysregulation with a potential functional impact on transcriptomic changes. Further, using correlation network analysis, we identified cell-type specific miRNA targets, specifically in astrocytes, neurons, and endothelial cells, associated with OUD transcriptomic dysregulation. Finally, leveraging a collection of control brain transcriptomes from the Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) project, we identified a correlation of OUD miRNA targets with TGF beta, hypoxia, angiogenesis, coagulation, immune system, and inflammatory pathways. Discussion: These findings support previous reports of neurovascular and immune system alterations as a consequence of opioid abuse and shed new light on miRNA network regulators of cellular response to opioid drugs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1025346
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
StatePublished - Jan 12 2023


  • blood
  • brain
  • microRNA
  • network analysis
  • neurovascular
  • opioid use disorder
  • prefrontal cortex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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