Brain cell-derived exosomes in plasma serve as neurodegeneration biomarkers in male cynomolgus monkeys self-administrating oxycodone

EBioMedicine. 2021 Jan;63:103192. doi: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2020.103192. Epub 2021 Jan 6.


Background: The United States is currently facing an opioid crisis. Novel tools to better comprehend dynamic molecular changes in the brain associated with the opioid abuse are limited. Recent studies have suggested the usefulness of plasma exosomes in better understanding CNS disorders. However, no study has ever characterized exosomes (small extracellular vesicles of endocytic origin) secreted by brain cells to understand the potential neurodegenerative effects of long-term oxycodone self-administration (SA).

Methods: MRI of Cynomolgus monkeys (Macaca fascicularis) was performed to assess alterations in gray matter volumes with oxycodone SA. We isolated total exosomes (TE) from the plasma of these monkeys; from TE, we pulled-out neuron-derived exosomes (NDE), astrocytes-derived exosomes (ADE), and microglia-derived exosomes (MDE) using surface biomarkers L1CAM (L1 cell adhesion molecule), GLAST (Glutamate aspartate transporter) and TMEM119 (transmembrane protein119), respectively.

Findings: We observed a significantly lower gray matter volume of specific lobes of the brain (frontal and parietal lobes, and right putamen) in monkeys with ∼3 years of oxycodone SA compared to controls. Higher expression of neurodegenerative biomarkers (NFL and α-synuclein) correlates well with the change in brain lobe volumes in control and oxycodone SA monkeys. We also identified a strong effect of oxycodone SA on the loading of specific miRNAs and proteins associated with neuro-cognitive disorders. Finally, exosomes subpopulation from oxycodone SA group activated NF-κB activity in THP1- cells.

Interpretation: These results provide evidence for the utility of brain cells-derived exosomes from plasma in better understanding and predicting the pro-inflammatory and neurodegenerative consequence of oxycodone SA.

Funding: NIH.

Keywords: Astrocytes-derived exosomes; Exosomes; Microglia-derived exosomes; Neuron-derived exosomes; Oxycodone.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / metabolism
  • Biomarkers*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Exosomes / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression
  • Macaca fascicularis
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Microglia / metabolism
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / diagnosis
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / etiology*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / metabolism*
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Oxycodone / administration & dosage
  • Oxycodone / adverse effects*
  • Protein Transport
  • Proteome
  • Proteomics / methods


  • Biomarkers
  • Proteome
  • Oxycodone