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LAWRENCE – A University of Kansas researcher is taking a new approach to America’s prolific opioid addiction problem. With a $2.3 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Zijun Wang will investigate the implications of the DNA breakage and repair process in opioid use disorder.

Wang’s work is based on the premise that opioid addiction is a psychiatric disorder caused by molecular changes in the brain that alter behavior.

“Drug addiction is not a moral wrong,” said Wang, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology. “In terms of addiction, the reward pathway in the brain is hijacked by repeated exposure to drugs. Drug-induced structural changes result in many abnormal behaviors, including reduced inhibitory control that prevents someone from avoiding behaviors with consequences negative”.

The human genome consists of more than 3 billion base pairs of DNA, containing more than 20,000 genes. This genetic material is used in complex biochemical processes in the function, development and replication of human cells. Wang said the genome is under attack from several sources. Normally, the DNA repair process can overcome these attacks, but repeated drug exposure can disrupt this process, “changing gene expression, cell function, and causing abnormal behaviors linked to drug addiction.” drugs”.

Wang’s research focuses on the DNA breakage and repair processes altered by addiction. Ultimately, Wang said, he aims to “help the genome maintain a normal or healthy environment in the cell and identify a potential therapy for these patients to prevent them from relapsing into drug use.”

The therapeutic approach needed to target DNA breaks has not yet been developed, but could come in the form of a drug or gene therapy. “Right now, we’re still in the early stages, but ultimately we want to provide new insight for the development of future therapies,” Wang said. “The first thing we want to do is get a clearer idea of ​​the neurobiology underlying this opioid addiction.”

“The work in this grant addresses a critical issue: what causes drug users to relapse into drug use after they successfully stop using drugs,” said Nancy Muma, chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology. “Zijun has developed a novel approach to determine whether the problem is damage to the person’s genes. If this is the case, future research can begin to address ways to mitigate gene damage to prevent or reduce relapse.”

“This is new research that no one else has done before,” Wang said. “How does DNA damage contribute to opioid addiction? We’re trying to make a link between them. At the end of the day, we want to find a treatment that can reduce drug-seeking behavior.”

This grant is funded through the Future of Genetics or Epigenetics of Substance Use Disorders program which supports highly creative early-stage researchers who propose innovative studies that open up new areas of research for the genetics or epigenetics of the addiction

Photo: Zijun Wang, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Kansas.

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Source: Pharmacy researcher wins $2.3 million NIH award to study opioid addiction

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