Potential Risk for Methadone Treatment in Pregnancy

WASHINGTON, July 13, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- A recently published article in Experimental Biology and Medicine (Volume 247, Issue 12, June, 2022) identifies a potential risk to using Methadone treatment for opioid dependency in pregnancy. The study, led by Dr. Jun Cai, Department of Pediatrics, and Dr. Lori A. Devlin, Department of Pediatrics at the University of Louisville and Norton Children's Hospital (Kentucky), report a potential link between antenatal Methadone exposure and impaired myelination in a developing brain.

Methadone (MTD) is commonly prescribed to treat opioid dependency in pregnancy. Current understanding of the effects of in-utero exposure on fetal brain development remains limited. Animal studies suggest a link between in-utero MTD exposure and impaired brain white matter development. In this study, Gibson et al. characterized the effects of in-utero MTD exposure on the neonatal rat brain through the evaluation of oligodendrocyte development and glial cell activation.

Dr. Devlin and colleagues show that oligodendrocytes in rat pups stop developing after in-utero exposure to MTD. This arrest is accompanied by rapid cell death of both immature and mature oligodendrocytes and microglial activation in multiple regions of white matter in brain. These findings suggests that in-utero opioid exposure may decrease nerve conduction in, and development of, white matter of the neonatal rat brain. This study, alongside others, raises concerns for altered fetal brain development after MTD exposure.

Drs. Devlin and Cai said, "Further understanding of the cellular effects of MTD will inform neurodevelopmental and behavior outcomes for infants with in-utero opioid exposure and may inform the development of novel treatments for opioid dependency during pregnancy."

Dr. Steven R. Goodman, Editor-in-Chief of Experimental Biology and Medicine, said "This elegant study by Gibson et al demonstrates the impact of perinatal methadone treatment on oligodendrocyte development and function in neonatal rat pups. This exposure led to a global decrease in myelination, accelerated apoptotic death of differentiated and myelinating oligodendrocytes and microglial activation. This, and prior studies by others, provides support for the idea that methadone treatment for opioid use disorder leads to impaired myelination in the developing brain. This understanding needs to be followed by development of alternative treatments to mitigate the effects of antenatal opioid exposure."

Experimental Biology and Medicine is a global journal dedicated to the publication of multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research in the biomedical sciences. The journal was first established in 1903. Experimental Biology and Medicine is the journal of the Society of Experimental Biology and Medicine. To learn about the benefits of society membership visit www.sebm.org. If you are interested in publishing in the journal, please visit http://ebm.sagepub.com.

For more information, please contact ebm@sebm.org.

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