Opioid’s Impact on the Brain Felt Across Generations, Study in Rats Suggests

New scientific evidence has emerged that opioids, the cause of an ongoing public health crisis, can have a biological impact not only on those who use them, but on their progeny. In a study of rats, males with a father repeatedly exposed to morphine tended to be more sensitive to the pain-relieving effects of the opioid. Their brains were altered by their dad’s experiences with the drug, seemingly passed down on his DNA. 

Published today in Science Advances, this research could lay the foundation for new approaches to curbing the opioid epidemic. 

“We don’t yet know if the intergenerational effects of morphine we see in rats also occur in humans,” said first author on the paper Andre Toussaint, a PhD candidate in the Wimmer lab at Temple University. “But if they do, people with a family history of opioid use disorder might be more strongly affected by—and potentially more easily addicted to—these drugs.”