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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Jan 15;105(2):786-91. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0710902105. Epub 2008 Jan 9.

Opioid neuropeptide genotypes in relation to heroin abuse: dopamine tone contributes to reversed mesolimbic proenkephalin expression.

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Section of Psychiatry, Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, S-171 76 Stockholm, Sweden.


Striatal enkephalin and dynorphin opioid systems mediate reward and negative affect, respectively, relevant to addiction disorders. We examined polymorphisms of proenkephalin (PENK) and prodynorphin (PDYN) genes in relation to heroin abuse and gene expression in the human striatum and the relevance of genetic dopaminergic tone, critical for drug reward and striatal function. Heroin abuse was significantly associated with PENK polymorphic 3' UTR dinucleotide (CA) repeats; 79% of subjects homozygous for the 79-bp allele were heroin abusers. Such individuals tended to express higher PENK mRNA than the 81-bp homozygotes, but PENK levels within the nucleus accumbens (NAc) shell were most strongly correlated to catecholamine-O-methyltransferase (COMT) genotype. Control Met/Met individuals expressed lower PENK mRNA than Val carriers, a pattern reversed in heroin users. Up-regulation of NAc PENK in Met/Met heroin abusers was accompanied by impaired tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) mRNA expression in mesolimbic dopamine neurons. In contrast to PENK, no association was detected between PDYN genotype (68-bp repeat element containing one to four copies of AP-1 binding sites in the promoter region) and heroin abuse, although there was a clear functional association with striatal PDYN mRNA expression: an increased number of inducible repeats (three and four) correlated with higher PDYN levels than adult or fetal subjects with noninducible (one and two) alleles. Moreover, PDYN expression was not related to COMT genotype. Altogether, the data suggest that dysfunction of the opioid reward system is significantly linked to opiate abuse vulnerability and that heroin use alters the apparent influence of heritable dopamine tone on mesolimbic PENK and TH function.

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