Inhibition of post-lanosterol biosynthesis by fentanyl: potential implications for Fetal Fentanyl Syndrome (FFS)

Zeljka Korade, Allison C. Anderson, Kanika Sharma, Keri A. Tallman, Hye Young H. Kim, Ned A. Porter, Karen W. Gripp, Karoly Mirnics

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A recent study discovered a novel, complex developmental disability syndrome, most likely caused by maternal fentanyl use disorder. This Fetal Fentanyl Syndrome (FFS) is biochemically characterized by elevated 7-dehydrocholesterol (7-DHC) levels in neonates, raising the question if fentanyl inhibition of the dehydrocholesterol reductase 7 (DHCR7) enzyme is causal for the emergence of the pathophysiology and phenotypic features of FFS. To test this hypothesis, we undertook a series of experiments on Neuro2a cells, primary mouse neuronal and astrocytic cultures, and human dermal fibroblasts (HDFs) with DHCR7+/+ and DHCR7+/ genotype. Our results revealed that in vitro exposure to fentanyl disrupted sterol biosynthesis across all four in vitro models. The sterol biosynthesis disruption by fentanyl was complex, and encompassed the majority of post-lanosterol intermediates, including elevated 7-DHC and decreased desmosterol (DES) levels across all investigated models. The overall findings suggested that maternal fentanyl use in the context of an opioid use disorder leads to FFS in the developing fetus through a strong disruption of the whole post-lanosterol pathway that is more complex than a simple DHCR7 inhibition. In follow-up experiments we found that heterozygous DHCR7+/ HDFs were significantly more susceptible to the sterol biosynthesis inhibitory effects of fentanyl than wild-type DHCR7+/+ fibroblasts. These data suggest that DHCR7+/ heterozygosity of mother and/or developing child (and potentially other sterol biosynthesis genes), when combined with maternal fentanyl use disorder, might be a significant contributory factor to the emergence of FFS in the exposed offspring. In a broader context, we believe that evaluation of new and existing medications for their effects on sterol biosynthesis should be an essential consideration during drug safety determinations, especially in pregnancy. (Figure presented.)

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


Dive into the research topics of 'Inhibition of post-lanosterol biosynthesis by fentanyl: potential implications for Fetal Fentanyl Syndrome (FFS)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this