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Single cell transcriptomics reveals opioid usage evokes widespread suppression of antiviral gene program

By Tanya T Karagiannis, John P Cleary, Busra Gok, Nicholas G Martin, Elliot C. Nelson, Christine S Cheng

Posted 07 May 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/630574

Chronic opioid usage not only causes addiction behavior through the central nervous system (CNS), but it also modulates the peripheral immune system. However, whether opioid usage positively or negatively impacts the immune system is still controversial. In order to understand the immune modulatory effect of opioids in a systematic and unbiased way, we performed single cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from opioid-dependent individuals and non-dependent controls. We show that chronic opioid usage evokes widespread suppression of interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs) and antiviral gene program in naive monocytes and upon ex vivo stimulation with the pathogen component lipopolysaccharide (LPS) in multiple innate and adaptive immune cell types. Furthermore, scRNA-seq revealed the same phenomenon with in vitro morphine treatment; after just a short exposure to morphine stimulation, we observed the same suppression of antiviral genes in multiple immune cell types. These findings indicate that both acute and chronic opioid exposure may be harmful to our immune system by suppressing the antiviral gene program, our body's defense response to potential infection. Our results suggest that further characterization of the immune modulatory effects of opioid use is critical to ensure the safety of clinical opioid usage.

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