News Release

Vaccine shows lasting effects against fentanyl addiction in rats

Peer-Reviewed Publication


A vaccine that combines a fentanyl antigen with a tetanus toxoid has been shown to reduce fentanyl choices and increase food choices with effects lasting several months in rats. These results suggest that the vaccine may not only decrease dangerous drug-taking behavior, but can also increase behaviors maintained by healthier non-drug alternatives. The findings are presented in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

The fentanyl-tetanus toxoid vaccine tested in this study was developed by Kim D. Janda at Scripps Research. Fentanyl on its own is unable to stimulate the production of antibodies. The Scripps researchers produced a vaccine cocktail to elicit an immune response against the fentanyl family of synthetic opioids. Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine then investigated the effectiveness of this vaccine to decrease fentanyl self-administration and increase food self-administration in male and female rats.

Matthew L. Banks and Kim D. Janda, the corresponding authors suggest: "More effective and readily available treatments for opioid use disorder are needed to tackle the current crisis. One strategy includes using opioid-targeted vaccines to elicit antibody production by the host's immune system that recognize and block the passage of a specific opioid into the brain and peripheral organs/tissue."

The study relied on a behavioral procedure in which rats chose between receiving fentanyl injections or food. Before vaccine treatment, rats chose a large amount of fentanyl, but within four weeks of being vaccinated, fentanyl choices decreased, and food choices increased. The effect was similar to that observed in rats chronically treated with naltrexone, a current FDA approved treatment for opioid addiction. In response to only two vaccinations at weeks one and three, fentanyl choice was decreased for 15 weeks, after which a third vaccination renewed the vaccine's effect, suggesting a long-lasting vaccine effect. Vaccination also prevented increased choice of fentanyl over food normally observed after fentanyl withdrawal.

The findings suggest that immunopharmacotherapies, which target the drug itself, may have the potential to prevent the development of opioid dependence and subsequent withdrawal. These findings also suggest the vaccine may provide protection against unintended fentanyl overdose. Further evaluation of the present preclinical evidence in human laboratory studies and clinical trials is needed to confirm the effectiveness of the vaccine in human patients.

The authors caution that immunopharmacotherapies provide unique challenges compared to currently approved treatments. First, the vaccine relies on the individual's ability to generate a sufficient immune response to the drug, which may be difficult in some individuals, for example those with weakened immune systems. Also, all vaccines, including the fentanyl vaccine used in this study, take several weeks to achieve maximal effectiveness. This lag time may leave subjects vulnerable to the effects of the targeted opioid during this vaccine induction period.


Further Information

About the Journal

Neuropsychopharmacology is an international scientific journal and the official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP). This journal focuses upon clinical and basic science contributions that advance our understanding of the brain and behaviour, especially as related to the molecular, cellular, physiological and psychological properties of agents acting within the central nervous system and the identification of the new molecular targets for the development of the next generation of drugs. While original reports are preferred, mini-reviews and perspectives are invited by the editorial office. In view of the interdisciplinary nature of the field, particular emphasis is placed on:

  • studies that advance the biological bases of normal and pathological behavior

  • the nature, etiology and pathophysiology of neuropsychiatric disorders

  • biologically relevant aspects of the epidemiology, diagnosis, and treatment of these disorders

  • and the basic mechanisms by which psychopharmacological agents exert their effect

Services for Journalists

Journalists can find the full-text article "Conjugate vaccine produces long-lasting attenuation of fentanyl vs. food choice and blocks expression of opioid withdrawal-induced increases in fentanyl choice in rats" by Townsend et al. at

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.