Methadone induces hypermethylation of human DNA

Epigenomics. 2016 Feb;8(2):167-79. doi: 10.2217/epi.15.78. Epub 2015 Sep 4.


Background: Increased global DNA methylation in the blood of patients chronically exposed to opioids had been interpreted as an indication of an epigenetic action of this drug class.

Materials & methods: To strengthen the causality, human MCF7 cells were cultured in media with the addition of several known or potential modulators of DNA methylation including methadone.

Results: Following 3 days of incubation with several different known or potential epigenetic modulators, global DNA methylation, quantified at LINE-1 CpG islands, showed a large variability across all treatments ranging from 27.8 to 63%. Based on distribution analysis of the global methylation of human DNA exposed to various potential modulators, present in vitro experiments showed that treatment with the opioid methadone was associated with an increased probability of hypermethylation.

Conclusion: This strengthens the evidence that opioids interfere with mechanisms of classical epigenetics.

Keywords: Gaussian mixture modeling; epigenetic drug effects; human DNA; opioids; pharmacoepigenomics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / pharmacology*
  • DNA Methylation / drug effects*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / drug effects*
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Humans
  • Long Interspersed Nucleotide Elements / drug effects
  • Long Interspersed Nucleotide Elements / genetics
  • MCF-7 Cells
  • Methadone / pharmacology*
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Methadone