Molecular mechanisms involved in alcohol craving, IRF3, and endoplasmic reticulum stress: a multi-omics study

Ming Fen Ho, Cheng Zhang, Irene Moon, Mustafa Tuncturk, Brandon J. Coombes, Joanna Biernacka, Michelle Skime, Tyler S. Oesterle, Victor M. Karpyak, Hu Li, Richard Weinshilboum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is the most prevalent substance use disorder worldwide. Acamprosate and naltrexone are anti-craving drugs used in AUD pharmacotherapy. However, molecular mechanisms underlying their anti-craving effect remain unclear. This study utilized a patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-based model system and anti-craving drugs that are used to treat AUD as “molecular probes” to identify possible mechanisms associated with alcohol craving. We examined the pathophysiology of craving and anti-craving drugs by performing functional genomics studies using iPSC-derived astrocytes and next-generation sequencing. Specifically, RNA sequencing performed using peripheral blood mononuclear cells from AUD patients with extreme values for alcohol craving intensity prior to treatment showed that inflammation-related pathways were highly associated with alcohol cravings. We then performed a genome-wide assessment of chromatin accessibility and gene expression profiles of induced iPSC-derived astrocytes in response to ethanol or anti-craving drugs. Those experiments identified drug-dependent epigenomic signatures, with IRF3 as the most significantly enriched motif in chromatin accessible regions. Furthermore, the activation of IRF3 was associated with ethanol-induced endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress which could be attenuated by anti-craving drugs, suggesting that ER stress attenuation might be a target for anti-craving agents. In conclusion, we found that craving intensity was associated with alcohol consumption and treatment outcomes. Our functional genomic studies suggest possible relationships among craving, ER stress, IRF3 and the actions of anti-craving drugs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number165
JournalTranslational psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry


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