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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 the 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, pharmacogenetics studies, and evolutionary analyses. She aims to better understand the mechanisms of drug addiction and improve treatment options. Her main goals are to identify gene variants that have a role in drug addiction, to assess populations around the world for differences in the genetic contribution to drug addiction, to develop a polygenic risk score, and to identify newly evolved regulatory regions for the opioid receptor genes.

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 personalized treatments for individuals through the use of genetic tools. In collaboration with Li Zhao, Levran used bioinformatics to identify an evolutionary shift in the OPRM1 brain expression profiles in higher primates.

Levran plans to expand this research by studying additional populations and unique cohorts, and by performing genome-wide association studies and region-specific deep sequencing.