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Papers of the Week

Papers: 15 Apr 2023 - 21 Apr 2023

Psychology, Translational

Animal Studies, Neurobiology, Pharmacology/Drug Development


2023 Apr 15



Preclinical evidence for the use of the atypical antipsychotic, brexpiprazole, for opioid use disorder.


Nickols JER, Dursun SM, Taylor AMW


Opioid addiction is characterized by adaptations in the mesolimbic dopamine system that occur during chronic opioid use. Alterations in dopaminergic transmission contribute to pathological drug-seeking behavior and other symptoms associated with opioid withdrawal following drug discontinuation, making drug abstinence challenging and contributing to high rates of relapse among those suffering from substance use disorder. Recently, the use of dopamine partial agonists has been proposed as a potential strategy to restore dopaminergic signalling during drug withdrawal, while avoiding the adverse side effects associated with stronger modulators of dopaminergic transmission. We investigated the effects of the atypical antipsychotic brexpiprazole, which is a partial agonist at dopamine D2 and D3 receptors, in a mouse model of opioid dependence. The development of opioid dependence in mice is characterized by locomotor sensitization, analgesic tolerance, opioid-induced hyperalgesia, and drug-seeking behavior. We set up four paradigms to model the effects of brexpiprazole on each of these adaptations that occur during chronic opioid use in male and female C57BL/6J mice. Concomitant treatment of brexpiprazole during chronic morphine administration attenuated the development of locomotor sensitization. Brexpiprazole treatment abolished morphine place preference and blocked reinstatement of this behavior following extinction. Brexpiprazole treatment did not alter morphine analgesia, nor did it impact the development of morphine tolerance. However, brexpiprazole treatment did prevent the expression of opioid-induced hyperalgesia in a tail-withdrawal assay, while failing to improve somatic withdrawal symptoms. Altogether, these results provide preclinical evidence for the efficacy of brexpiprazole as a modulator of dopamine-dependent behaviors during opioid use and withdrawal.