Opioid use disorder (OUD) has become a leading cause of death in the United States, yet current therapeutic strategies remain highly inadequate. To identify potential treatments for OUD, we screened a targeted selection of over 100 drugs using a recently developed opioid self-administration assay in zebrafish. This paradigm showed that finasteride, a steroidogenesis inhibitor approved for the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia and androgenetic alopecia, reduced self-administration of multiple opioids without affecting locomotion or feeding behavior. These findings were confirmed in rats; furthermore, finasteride reduced the physical signs associated with opioid withdrawal. In rat models of neuropathic pain, finasteride did not alter the antinociceptive effect of opioids and reduced withdrawal-induced hyperalgesia. Steroidomic analyses of the brains of fish treated with finasteride revealed a significant increase in dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS). Treatment with precursors of DHEAS reduced opioid self-administration in zebrafish in a fashion akin to the effects of finasteride. These results highlight the importance of steroidogenic pathways as a rich source of therapeutic targets for OUD and point to the potential of finasteride as a new treatment option for this disorder.
Gabriel D. Bosse, Roberto Cadeddu, Gabriele Floris, Ryan D. Farero, Eva Vigato, Suhjung J. Lee, Tejia Zhang, Nilesh W. Gaikwad, Kristen A. Keefe, Paul E.M. Phillips, Marco Bortolato, Randall T. Peterson