Epigenetic Effects of Intravenous Diacetylmorphine on the Methylation of POMC and NR3C1

Adrian Groh, Mathias Rhein, Vanessa Buchholz, Alexandra Burkert, Christian G. Huber, Undine E. Lang, Stefan J. Borgwardt, Annemarie Heberlein, Marc A.N. Muschler, Thomas Hillemacher, Stefan Bleich, Helge Frieling, Marc Walter

6 Citations (Scopus)


The administration of diacetylmorphine (DAM) reduces the activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis in opioid-maintained patients. However, the epigenetic effects of DAM on addiction-related genes have not been investigated yet. In a randomized controlled study, we examined the immediate effects of intravenous DAM versus placebo on the promoter methylation of the POMC (pro-opiomelanocortin) and NR3C1 (glucocorticoid receptor 1) genes. Twenty-eight heroin-dependent patients on DAM-assisted treatment received either DAM or saline in a randomized crossover design and 17 healthy participants received saline only. EDTA blood samples were taken 25 min before and 10 min after the injection of DAM or saline. We found reciprocal regulation effects for DAM versus saline application regarding the methylation of POMC; while DAM injection significantly increased methylation, saline injection led to a significant decrease in methylation for patients as well as controls. NR3C1 data did not show significant changes in methylation. Injection of DAM blunted stress hormone levels and the POMC promoter methylation of heroin-dependent patients. These findings provide first preliminary insights into the epigenetic mechanisms underlying the emotional regulation effects of DAM-assisted treatment in severe heroin-dependent patients.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)193-199
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 01.04.2018


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