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Association of Serotonin Transporter (SERT) Polymorphisms with Opioid Dependence and Dimensional Aspects of Cocaine Use in a Caucasian Cohort of Opioid Users

Authors Yuferov V, Butelman ER, Randesi M, van den Brink W, Blanken P, van Ree JM, Kreek MJ

Received 14 October 2020

Accepted for publication 25 December 2020

Published 25 February 2021 Volume 2021:17 Pages 659—670


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 2

Editor who approved publication: Dr Roger Pinder

Vadim Yuferov,1,* Eduardo R Butelman,1,* Matthew Randesi,1 Wim van den Brink,2 Peter Blanken,3 Jan M van Ree,4 Mary Jeanne Kreek1

1Laboratory of the Biology of Addictive Diseases, The Rockefeller University, New York, NY, 10065, USA; 2Amsterdam University Medical Centers, Location Academic Medical Center, Department of Psychiatry, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; 3Parnassia Addiction Research Centre, The Hague, The Netherlands; 4Brain Center Rudolf Magnus, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands

*These authors contributed equally to this work

Correspondence: Eduardo R Butelman
Laboratory on the Biology of Addictive Diseases, The Rockefeller University, 1230 York Avenue, New York, NY, 10065, USA
Tel +1 212 327-8490
Fax +1 212 327-8574
Email [email protected]

Introduction: A functional tandem repeat polymorphism in the promoter of the serotonin transporter (SERT) gene (SLC6A4) has been studied for association to neuropsychiatric conditions, including substance use disorders. Short (S) forms of this repeat result in reduced transcription, and presumably greater synaptic levels of serotonin, which are involved in opioid and cocaine-induced reward. Dual exposure to heroin and cocaine is a common pattern of poly-drug use and is associated with considerable morbidity. We hypothesize that SLC6A4 variants are associated with cocaine exposure in subjects with an opioid dependence diagnosis (OD), and also in non-dependent opioid users (NOD). Other single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) of SLC6A4 may also be likewise associated.
Materials and Methods: This study determined whether variants of the SLC6A4 promoter repeats and two intronic SNPs, rs16965628 and rs2066713, are associated with categorical diagnoses of opioid dependence (DSM-IV criteria) and with dimensional aspects of cocaine use, in a Caucasian cohort (n=591). Three groups of subjects were examined: (1) 276 subjects with opioid dependence diagnosis (OD); (2) 163 subjects who had used opioids for non-medical reasons but never had an opioid dependence diagnosis (NOD); (3) 152 healthy controls (HC).
Results: Aside from high exposure to heroin in the OD group, relatively high exposure to cocaine was detected in both OD and NOD groups. The SERT repeat genotype (classified as “long-long” [LL] versus ”short-long” plus “short-short” [SL+SS]) was not associated with categorical opioid dependence diagnoses. A nominally significant association was identified with the [SL+SS] genotype of SLC6A4 and cocaine KMSK scores ≥“cutpoint” for a cocaine dependence diagnosis (p=0.026). The [SL+SS] genotype was associated with more rapid cocaine escalation than the LL genotype. No significant associations of rs16965628 and rs2066713 SNPs were found overall.
Conclusion: The functional SERT promoter tandem repeat genotype may be associated to heavy cocaine exposure and more rapid escalation of cocaine use, in persons with and without opioid dependence diagnosis.

Keywords: cocaine, serotonin transporter, SLC6A4, KMSK scale, escalation

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