Morphine-mediated release of astrocyte-derived extracellular vesicle miR-23a induces loss of pericyte coverage at the blood-brain barrier: Implications for neuroinflammation

Ke Liao, Fang Niu, Guoku Hu, Shilpa Buch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Opioids such as morphine are the most potent and efficacious drugs currently available for pain management. Paradoxically, opioids have also been implicated in inducing neuroinflammation and associated neurocognitive decline. Pericytes, a critical component of the neurovascular unit (NVU), are centrally positioned between endothelial cells and astrocytes, maintaining function of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) nd regulating neuroinflammation by controlling monocyte influx under various pathological conditions. The role of pericytes in morphine-mediated neuroinflammation however, has received less attention, especially in the context of how pericytes crosstalk with other central nervous system (CNS) cells. The current study was undertaken to examine the effect of miRNAs released from morphine-stimulated human primary astrocyte-derived extracellular vesicles (morphine-ADEVs) in mediating pericyte loss at the blood-brain barrier, leading, in turn, to increased influx of peripheral monocytes. Our findings suggest that the heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein complex A2/B1 (hnRNP A2/B1) plays role in morphine-mediated upregulation and release of miR-23a in ADEVs, and through action of morphine via mu opioid receptor.We further demonstrated that miR-23a in morphine-ADEVs could be taken up by pericytes, resulting in downregulation of PTEN expression, ultimately leading to increased pericyte migration. Furthermore, both overexpression of PTEN and blocking the miR-23a target site at PTEN 3UTR (by transfecting miR-23a-PTEN target protector), attenuated morphine-ADEV-mediated pericyte migration. We also demonstrated that in the microvessels isolated from morphine-administered mice, there were fewer PDGFβR + pericytes co-localizing with CD31+ brain endothelial cells compared with those from saline mice. In line with these findings, we also observed increased loss of pericytes and a concomitantly increased influx of monocytes in the brains of morphine-administered pericyte-labeled NG2-DsRed mice compared with saline mice. In conclusion, our findings indicate morphine-ADEVs mediated loss of pericyte coverage at the brain endothelium, thereby increasing the influx of peripheral monocytes in the central nervous system, leading to neuroinflammation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number984375
JournalFrontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology
StatePublished - Nov 21 2022


  • drug abuse
  • extracellular vesicles
  • miRNA
  • monocyte
  • neuroinflammation
  • pericyte

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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