While prescription opioid analgesics are efficacious in treating nociceptive and inflammatory pain, long-term use of these medications may lead to opioid use disorders and ultimately overdoses. The opioid overdose epidemic is a progressing public health threat and a leading cause of injury and death in the United States. In 2017, over 68% of drug overdose deaths involved an opioid. Thus, there is a critical need for the development of novel adjunct pharmacotherapies that can treat pain while reducing the abuse liability of opioid analgesics.
Recent studies indicate that systemic administration of amylin, an endogenous metabolic factor produced by pancreatic β-cells, reduces oxycodone taking- and seeking-behaviors in rats. Emerging evidence indicates that amylin produces analgesic effects in rodent pain models, suggesting that activation of central amylin receptors may modulate both the reinforcing and analgesic effects of prescription opioids.
My summer research project sought to identify the effects of amylin receptor activation in the nucleus accumbens shell on opioid reinforcement and analgesia. Our results demonstrated that activation of amylin receptors in the accumbens shell attenuates oxycodone self-administration and the reinstatement of oxycodone-seeking behavior. These behaviorally-relevant doses of amylin did not affect food intake, body weight, or oxycodone’s antinociceptive effects. Overall, results from these studies suggest that central amylin receptors may be targeted to treat opioid use disorder.
My ten weeks in the Schmidt lab were truly transformative. I grew as a researcher, student, and colleague. I better understood the impact of biomedical research studies and the translational components of animal behavioral models. I acquired countless technical skills including intracranial injections, catheter surgeries, cryosectioning, immunohistochemistry, IP injections, genotyping, and Von Frey assays, among others. Aside from the technical skills, however, I learned how to read scientific papers and critically analyze their findings. I was able to challenge the research methods utilized and propose future directions for said studies. I learned a lot about working in a collaborative research setting and the importance of examining my data on a daily basis. However, the most rewarding aspect of my summer experience was knowing that I was actively participating in research that could contribute to the development of novel pharmacotherapies to treat opioid use disorder.