Epigenome-wide study of brain DNA methylation among opioid users and controls
Opioid abuse poses significant risk to individuals in the United States and epigenetic changes are a leading potential biomarker of abuse. Current evidence, however, is mostly limited to candidate gene analysis in whole blood. To clarify the association between opioid abuse and DNA methylation, we conducted an epigenome-wide analysis (EWAS) of DNA methylation in brains of individuals who died from opioid intoxication and controls. Tissue samples were extracted from the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex of 160 deceased individuals (Mage = 35.15, SD = 9.42 years; 62% male; 78% White). The samples included 73 individuals who died of opioid intoxication, 59 group-matched psychiatric controls, and 28 group-matched normal controls. EWAS was implemented using the Illumina Infinium MethylationEPIC BeadChip; analyses adjusted for sociodemographic characteristics, negative control and ancestry principal components, cellular composition, and surrogate variables. Epigenetic age was calculated using the Horvath and Levine clocks, and gene ontology (GO) analyses were performed. No CpG sites were epigenome-wide significant after multiple testing correction, but 13 sites reached nominal significance (p < 1.0 x 10-5). There was a significant association between opioid use and Levine phenotypic age (b = 2.24, se = 1.11, p = .045). Opioid users were approximately two years phenotypically older compared to controls. GO analyses revealed enriched pathways related to cell function and neuron differentiation, but no terms survived multiple testing correction. Results inform our understanding of the neurobiology of opioid use, and future research with larger samples across stages of opioid use will elucidate the complex genomics of opioid abuse. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.
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