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Drug addiction is a chronic brain disease with a significant genetic contribution and a complex inheritance mode. Only a small percentage of individuals meeting criteria for heroin dependence are able to succeed in maintaining long-term abstinence without medication. Levran’s research in the laboratory of Mary Jeanne Kreek focuses on heroin and cocaine addiction, and includes population-specific association studies and pharmacogenetics studies of methadone maintenance treatment. Her aim is to better understand the mechanisms of drug addiction, develop new pharmacotherapeutic approaches, and improve treatment options.

Levran has identified multiple susceptibility loci for heroin and cocaine addiction (e.g., FKBP5, CSKN1E, DRD2, CHRM4, and HTR3B) in several pathways including stress response, circadian rhythm, synaptic plasticity, and the reward system. She has demonstrated that some loci are population-specific or drug-specific. She has also identified susceptibility loci that are associated with methadone dose requirement (e.g., ABCB1, CYP2B6, and NGFB), a step toward personalizing treatments for individuals using genetic tools.

Levran’s goal is to expand this research by studying additional populations, unique cohorts, and epigenetic factors, and by using new tools, including genome-wide association studies and region-specific deep sequencing.