Increased DNA Methylation ofABCB1, CYP2D6,andOPRM1Genes in Newborn Infants of Methadone-Maintained Opioid-Dependent Mothers

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To investigate whether in utero opioid exposure, which has been linked to adverse neurodevelopmental and social outcomes, is associated with altered DNA methylation of opioid-related genes at birth.

Study design

Observational cohort study of 21 healthy methadone-maintained opioid-dependent mother-infant dyads consecutively delivered at >36 weeks of gestation, and 2 comparator groups: smoking, “deprived” opioid-naïve mother-infant dyads (n = 17) and nonsmoking, “affluent” opioid-naïve mother-infant dyads (n = 15). DNA methylation of ABCB1, CYP2D6, and OPRM1 genes for mothers and babies was determined from buccal swabs. Plasma methadone concentrations were additionally measured for methadone-maintained opioid-dependent mothers.


DNA methylation for ABCB1 and CYP2D6 was similar in opioid-naïve infants compared with their mothers, but was less for OPRM1 (3 ± 1.6% vs 8 ± 1%, P < .0005). Opioid-exposed newborns had similar DNA methylation to their mothers for all genes studied and greater methylation of ABCB1 (18 ± 4.8% vs 3 ± 0.5%), CYP2D6 (92 ± 1.2% vs 89 ± 2.4%), and OPRM1 (8 ± 0.3% vs 3 ± 1.6%) compared with opioid-naïve newborns (P < .0005 for all 3 genes). Infant DNA methylation was not related to birth weight, length of hospital stay, maternal smoking, dose or plasma concentration of methadone at delivery, or postcode of residence.


In utero exposure to opioids is associated with increased methylation of opioid-related genes in the newborn infant. It is not clear whether these findings are due to opioid exposure per se or other associated lifestyle factors.

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