The addictions are highly heritable neuropsychiatric diseases;however, the responsible genetic factors remain largely unknown. Both an individual's genotype and the particular environment can powerfully influence the subjective and physiological response to drugs of abuse. Accordingly, gene x environment (G x E) interactions are hypothesized to contribute substantially to the heritability of the addictions. Mice serve as a important model organism for understanding the genetic basis of G x E interactions, permitting experimental control over genetic and environmental factors. The primary objective of this proposal is to identify the genetic basis of G x E interactions in behavioral traits that accompany the progressive stages of addiction. We observed a potent G x E interaction in the rewarding effect of the widely abused opioid oxycodone (OXY) in C57BL/6J (B6J) and C57BL/6NJ (B6NJ) substrains in the conditioned place preference (CPP) test. B6NJ showed up to a five-fold increase in OXY-CPP relative to B6J, but only when two out of four cage mates received OXY during training. In contrast, when all four mice received OXY, the effect of genotype was eliminated. Thus, the post-training social drug environment of the home cage can exert divergent effects on drug seeking behavior, depending on the genotype of the mice. We developed a multi-stage addiction assessment protocol (MSAAP) to measure a panel of addiction traits for G x E interactions in B6 substrains, including reward, analgesic tolerance, and the emotional-affective component of opioid withdrawal. In addition to substrain differences in opioid reward, preliminary studies indicate a three-fold increase in the emotional-affective component of OXY withdrawal in B6NJ versus B6J in the elevated plus maze. Because B6 substrains are nearly genetically identical, mapping the genetic basis of G x E interactions for MSAAP traits is expected to yield quantitative trait loci (QTLs) that possess very few predicted functional variants. In support, preliminary studies demonstrate that a B6J x B6NJ- F2 Reduced Complexity Cross (RCC) can be used to identify QTLs for diverse complex traits that contain fewer than 10 predicted functional variants per locus.
In Aim 1, the RCC will be used to map the genetic basis of G x E interactions in MSAAP traits and select the most likely candidate genes based on the limited number of predicted functional variants that are expected to underlie the QTLs.
In Aim 2, candidate genes will be validated using transcription activator-like endonucleases (TALENs) to introduce targeted null mutations and assess their role in G x E interactions in addiction traits. The identification of novel genetic factors mediating G x E interactions in multiple facets of addiction will enhance our understanding of the dynamic neurobiological mechanisms that support its progression. The results of these studies support the long-term goal of developing novel preventative and treatment strategies for addiction. An attractive notion is that clinicians will one day determine the most appropriate treatment based on both the patient's genotype and historical environment of drug abuse.

Public Health Relevance

The mortality rate is high for deaths arising from complications associated with addiction. Identifying the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to this debilitating disease will improve public health among addicts and the lives of those directly affected by their disease. The mainstay treatment strategy for opioid addiction is to treat the symptoms of dependence with more opioids;the studies outlined in this proposal could lead to the development of innovative strategies for treating and preventing different components of addiction, including novel drug targets and behavioral therapies that consider both the genotype and historical environment of drug abuse in patients.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Small Research Grants (R03)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Biobehavioral Regulation, Learning and Ethology Study Section (BRLE)
Program Officer
Pollock, Jonathan D
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Boston University
Schools of Medicine
United States
Zip Code
Babbs, Richard K; Kelliher, Julia C; Scotellaro, Julia L et al. (2018) Genetic differences in the behavioral organization of binge eating, conditioned food reward, and compulsive-like eating in C57BL/6J and DBA/2J strains. Physiol Behav 197:51-66
Goldberg, L R; Kirkpatrick, S L; Yazdani, N et al. (2017) Casein kinase 1-epsilon deletion increases mu opioid receptor-dependent behaviors and binge eating1. Genes Brain Behav 16:725-738
Kirkpatrick, Stacey L; Goldberg, Lisa R; Yazdani, Neema et al. (2017) Cytoplasmic FMR1-Interacting Protein 2 Is a Major Genetic Factor Underlying Binge Eating. Biol Psychiatry 81:757-769
Bryant, C D; Yazdani, N (2016) RNA-binding proteins, neural development and the addictions. Genes Brain Behav 15:169-86
Kirkpatrick, Stacey L; Bryant, Camron D (2014) Behavioral architecture of opioid reward and aversion in C57BL/6 substrains. Front Behav Neurosci 8:450