Introduction: The perioperative pain experience shows great interindividual variability and is difficult to predict. The mu-1 opioid receptor gene (OPRM1) is known to play an important role in opioid-pain pathways. Since deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) methylation is a potent repressor of gene expression, DNA methylation was evaluated at the OPRM1 promoter, as a predictor of preoperative, acute, and chronic postsurgical pain (CPSP).
Methods: A prospective observational cohort study was conducted in 133 adolescents with idiopathic scoliosis undergoing spine fusion under standard protocols. Data regarding pain, opioid consumption, anxiety, and catastrophizing (using validated questionnaires) were collected before and 2-3 months postsurgery. Outcomes evaluated were preoperative pain, acute postoperative pain (area under curve [AUC] for pain scores over 48 hours), and CPSP (numerical rating scale >3/10 at 2-3 months postsurgery). Blood samples collected preoperatively were analyzed for DNA methylation by pyrosequencing of 22 CpG sites at the OPRM1 gene promoter. The association of each pain outcome with the methylation percentage of each CpG site was assessed using multivariable regression, adjusting for significant (P<0.05) nongenetic variables.
Results: Majority (83%) of the patients reported no pain preoperatively, while CPSP occurred in 36% of the subjects (44/121). Regression on dichotomized preoperative pain outcome showed association with methylation at six CpG sites (1, 3, 4, 9, 11, and 17) (P<0.05). Methylation at CpG sites 4, 17, and 18 was associated with higher AUC after adjusting for opioid consumption and preoperative pain score (P<0.05). After adjusting for postoperative opioid consumption and preoperative pain score, methylation at CpG sites 13 and 22 was associated with CPSP (P<0.05).
Discussion: Novel CPSP biomarkers were identified in an active regulatory region of the OPRM1 gene that binds multiple transcription factors. Inhibition of binding by DNA methylation potentially decreases the OPRM1 gene expression, leading to a decreased response to endogenous and exogenous opioids, and an increased pain experience.
Keywords: DNA methylation; OPRM1; chronic postsurgical pain; epigenetics; pain.