Chronic opioid pretreatment potentiates the sensitization of fear learning by trauma

Zachary T. Pennington, Jeremy M. Trott, Abha K. Rajbhandari, Kevin Li, Wendy M. Walwyn, Christopher J. Evans, Michael S. Fanselow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Despite the large comorbidity between PTSD and opioid use disorders, as well as the common treatment of physical injuries resulting from trauma with opioids, the ability of opioid treatments to subsequently modify PTSD-related behavior has not been well studied. Using the stress-enhanced fear learning (SEFL) model for PTSD, we characterized the impact of chronic opioid regimens on the sensitization of fear learning seen following traumatic stress in mice. We demonstrate for the first time that chronic opioid pretreatment is able to robustly augment associative fear learning. Highlighting aversive learning as the cognitive process mediating this behavioral outcome, these changes were observed after a considerable period of drug cessation, generalized to learning about multiple aversive stimuli, were not due to changes in stimulus sensitivity or basal anxiety, and correlated with a marker of synaptic plasticity within the basolateral amygdala. Additionally, these changes were not observed when opioids were given after the traumatic event. Moreover, we found that neither reducing the frequency of opioid administration nor bidirectional manipulation of acute withdrawal impacted the subsequent enhancement in fear learning seen. Given the fundamental role of associative fear learning in the generation and progression of PTSD, these findings are of direct translational relevance to the comorbidity between opioid dependence and PTSD, and they are also pertinent to the use of opioids for treating pain resulting from traumas involving physical injuries.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)482-490
Number of pages9
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2020
Externally publishedYes


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