Opioid analgesic fentanyl may cause autism-like behavior in young mice

Massachusetts General Hospital

BOSTON – Fentanyl, a mu-opioid receptor agonist, is one of the most commonly used analgesics in the hospital and may induce long-lasting behavioral and somatosensory impairment in rodents. However, whether the use of fentanyl is associated with the development of autism is not known. An animal study led by investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Shanghai 10th People’s Hospital, and the University of Pennsylvania has shown that fentanyl can induce changes similar to autism-like behaviors in young male and female mice. The findings are published in the British Journal of Anaesthesia.

Research by other groups has shown that N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor dysfunction contributes to autism. Variations in Grin2a and Grin2b, the genes encoding GluN2A and GluN2B subunits of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor, are associated with autism. In addition, the anterior cingulate cortex of the brain is affected in autism.

In this current study, the research team reported that fentanyl induces autism-like behaviors in young male and female mice via activating the mu-opioid receptor in the anterior cingulate cortex. Further, these fentanyl-induced autism-like behaviors appear partially due to the hypermethylation-mediated reduction of Grin2b expression in the anterior cingulate cortex of mice.

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