UNMC team ties microRNA to meth use relapse

by Kalani Simpson, UNMC strategic communications | February 15, 2022

Image with caption: Sowmya Yelamanchili, PhD

Sowmya Yelamanchili, PhD

Methamphetamine use disorder (MUD) is associated with chronic inflammation in the brain. It also has a very high relapse rate – a recent University of Nebraska-Lincoln study reports that meth use and overdose deaths are rising in rural parts of the state. 

Are those two things – inflammation in the brain and methamphetamine use disorder relapses – related? 

A UNMC-UNL research team, led by Sowmya Yelamanchili, PhD, associate professor of anesthesiology in the UNMC Department of Anesthesiology, recently published findings in a leading medical journal that establish that connection and much more. 

Dr. Yelamanchili and her team report that the microRNA mir-29a “plays a critical role in (chronic methamphetamine exposure)-induced inflammation and damage to the synapses.” Mir-29a is significantly increased during methamphetamine exposure.

Further, the study found that mir-29a levels show significant increase both with drug-seeking and “reinstatement,” a model of relapse, in animal models. An anti-inflammatory agent, already an FDA-approved drug for other conditions, can reduce levels of mir-29a and "thereby rescue relapse in animals,” Dr. Yelamanchili said. 

Through study of plasma from human methamphetamine use disorder subjects, the team has validated mir-29a as a biomarker to detect chronic inflammation and synaptic damage. 

These findings show, “The presence of this microRNA can cause relapse,” Dr. Yelamanchili said.  

“We are excited to have found this critical lead.” 

picture disc.
Gurudutt Pendyala, PhD

Publication in the field’s leading journal, the Journal of Extracellular Vesicles, means the scientific community believes the findings are a big deal. “It means these works have a high translational relevance,” Dr. Yelamanchili said.

“We have covered the entire gamut of addiction,” said Gurudutt Pendyala, PhD, Robert Lieberman Professor of Anesthesiology.

Dr. Pendyala is a crucial collaborator, as are Howard Fox, MD, PhD, professor of neurological sciences, and Rick Bevins, PhD, director of UNL’s Rural Drug Addiction Research Center

picture disc.
Howard Fox, MD, PhD

The comprehensive study has been a five-year journey for Dr. Yelamanchili and team. She first got the idea studying how extracellular vesicles — organelles regulating several body functions, including carrying cargo molecules (in this case microRNA from cell to cell) — contribute to inflammation in other diseases. Nebraska is first to connect this to MUD. 

The team further validated its findings using in vitro cultures, where introducing mir-29a caused damage to synapses, and finally human subject plasma, lending a high degree of translational relevance. 

In preclinical animal models, treatment with the anti-inflammatory ibudilast decreased mir-29a, lessened inflammation and “rescued” damage to the synapses and dendrites. The team, funded through a National Institutes of Health R01 grant, is actively pursuing further therapeutics study and aims to move into clinical subjects, hopefully within a couple years.

C Melissa Campbell
February 16, 2022 at 10:21 AM

Congratulations, Sowmya and team!

Kenneth Zoucha
February 16, 2022 at 10:16 AM

Congratulations! We are so looking forward to having more tools to treat our patients with methamphetamine use disorder. It is great to hear there are possibilities on the horizon.

February 16, 2022 at 10:04 AM

Thank you all for your kind comments! A lot more work to do for sure!

Samikkannu Thangavel
February 15, 2022 at 11:27 AM

Congratulations Dr. Sowmya and Gurudutt!

Moorthy Ponnusamy
February 15, 2022 at 11:09 AM

Congrats Sowmya and Gurudutt!

Matt Van Hook
February 15, 2022 at 8:56 AM

Congrats and nice work!

Patricia A Anderson
February 15, 2022 at 8:48 AM

Congratulations, Dr. Yelamanchili and the entire Research Team. Fantastic!

Mason Savine
February 15, 2022 at 8:24 AM

Congrats Dr. Y and the whole team!

Karsten Bartels
February 15, 2022 at 7:30 AM

Congratulations Dr. Yelamanchili and Team. Truly outstanding work!

February 15, 2022 at 6:35 AM

Congratulations Sowmya!