The influence of opioid dependence on salt consumption and related psychological parameters in mice and humans

Craig M. Smith, Joshua B.B. Garfield, Aparna Attawar, Dan I. Lubman, Andrew J. Lawrence

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BACKGROUND: The consumption of dietary salt (NaCl) is controlled by neuronal pathways that are modulated by endogenous opioid signalling. The latter is disrupted by chronic use of exogenous opioid receptor agonists, such as morphine. Therefore, opioid dependence may influence salt consumption, which we investigated in two complimentary studies in humans and mice. METHODS: Human study: three groups were recruited: i. Individuals who are currently opioid dependent and receiving opioid substitution treatment (OST); ii. Previously opioid dependent individuals, who are currently abstinent, and; iii. Healthy controls with no history of opioid dependence. Participants tasted solutions containing different salt concentrations and indicated levels of salt 'desire', salt 'liking', and perceptions of 'saltiness'. Mouse study: preference for 0.1 M versus 0.2 M NaCl and overall levels of salt consumption were recorded during and after chronic escalating morphine treatment. RESULTS: Human study: Abstinent participants' 'desire' for and 'liking' of salt was shifted towards more highly concentrated salt solutions relative to control and OST individuals. Mouse study: Mice increased their total salt consumption during morphine treatment relative to vehicle controls, which persisted for 3 days after cessation of treatment. Preference for 'low' versus 'high' concentrations of salt were unchanged. CONCLUSION: These findings suggest a possible common mechanistic cross-sensitization to salt that is present in both mice and humans and builds our understanding of how opioid dependence can influence dietary salt consumption. This research may help inform better strategies to improve the diet and overall wellbeing of the growing number of individuals who develop opioid dependence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-26
Number of pages8
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019


  • Animal
  • Human
  • Opioid dependence
  • Salt consumption

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