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Depletion of the Microbiome Alters the Recruitment of Neuronal Ensembles of Oxycodone Intoxication and Withdrawal


Substance use disorders have a complex etiology. Genetics, the environment, and behavior all play a role in the initiation, escalation, and relapse of drug use. Recently, opioid use disorder has become a national health crisis. One aspect of opioid addiction that has yet to be fully examined is the effects of alterations of the microbiome and gut-brain axis signaling on central nervous system activity during opioid intoxication and withdrawal. The effect of microbiome depletion on the activation of neuronal ensembles was measured by detecting Fos-positive (Fos+) neuron activation during intoxication and withdrawal using a rat model of oxycodone dependence. Daily oxycodone administration (2 mg/kg) increased pain thresholds and increased Fos+ neurons in the basolateral amygdala (BLA) during intoxication, with a decrease in pain thresholds and increase in Fos+ neurons in the periaqueductal gray (PAG), central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA), locus coeruleus (LC), paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus (PVT), agranular insular cortex (AI), bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST), and lateral habenula medial parvocellular region during withdrawal. Microbiome depletion produced widespread but region- and state-specific changes in neuronal ensemble activation. Oxycodone intoxication and withdrawal also increased functional connectivity among brain regions. Microbiome depletion resulted in a decorrelation of this functional network. These data indicate that microbiome depletion by antibiotics produces widespread changes in the recruitment of neuronal ensembles that are activated by oxycodone intoxication and withdrawal, suggesting that the gut microbiome may play a role in opioid use and dependence. Future studies are needed to better understand the molecular, neurobiological, and behavioral effects of microbiome depletion on addiction-like behaviors.

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