Background: The orexins (hypocretins) are neuropeptides with an origin in the lateral hypothalamus. They have been found to be crucial within the context of drug craving, withdrawal und relapse. Methods: Therefore, orexin A gene expression and promoter methylation in peripheral blood cells of 77 subjects [36 with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) dependence, 20 nicotine-dependent cigarette smokers and 21 nonsmokers] were assessed by quantitative real-time PCR and methylation-specific digestion PCR. Results: There was a statistically significant difference in orexin A expression between the three groups [p = 0.000, F = 131.4, d.f. = 2, analysis of variance (ANOVA)]. Orexin A gene expression was statistically significantly correlated with the Satisfaction with Life Scale (r = –0.28, p = 0.018), a visual analogue scale of craving (r = 0.734, p = 0.000) and three subscales of the World Health Organization Alcohol, Smoking and Substance Involvement Screening Test, i.e. nicotine consumption (r = 0.388, p = 0.001), alcohol consumption (r = 0.354, p = 0.002) and cannabis consumption (r = 0.783, p = 0.000). The mean promoter methylation (as a percentage) was not statistically related to orexin gene expression. However, there was a statistically significant difference in promoter methylation with regard to body mass index in general (F = 2.37, d.f. = 54, p = 0.016, ANOVA). Conclusions: Orexin might be a possible target in THC as well as nicotine dependence, taking into account the effect of THC on energy homeostasis in the circuit of reward and motivation and its impact on appetite and body weight.
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