Addiction is a chronic brain disorder. Prolonged abstinence from drugs of abuse involves dysphoria, high stress responsiveness and craving. The neurobiology of drug abstinence, however, is poorly understood. We previously identified a unique set of hundred mu-opioid receptor-dependent genes in the extended amygdala, a key site for hedonic and stress processing in the brain. Here we examined these candidate genes either immediately after chronic morphine, nicotine, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol or alcohol, or following 4 weeks of abstinence. Regulation patterns strongly differed among chronic groups. In contrast, gene regulations strikingly converged in the abstinent groups and revealed unforeseen common adaptations within a novel huntingtin-centered molecular network previously unreported in addiction research. This study demonstrates that, regardless the drug, a specific set of transcriptional regulations develops in the abstinent brain, which possibly contributes to the negative affect characterizing protracted abstinence. This transcriptional signature may represent a hallmark of drug abstinence and a unitary adaptive molecular mechanism in substance abuse disorders.
© 2011 The Authors, Addiction Biology © 2011 Society for the Study of Addiction.