BackgroundOpioids are the most effective drugs commonly prescribed to treat pain. Due to their addictive nature, opioid pain relievers are now second to marijuana, ahead of cocaine with respect to dependence. Ours and other studies suggest potential toxic effects of chronic opioid administration leading to neuronal degeneration. It has been suggested that protein carbonylation may represent a sensitive biomarker of cellular degeneration. To evaluate whether prolonged oxycodone administration is associated with accumulation of protein aggregates that may contribute to neuronal degeneration we measured protein carbonylation levels in brain and also in blood plasma of rats after 30-days of 15 mg/kg daily oxycodone administration.ResultsWe observed a significant increase in the level of carbonylated proteins in rat brain cortex after 30-days of oxycodone treatment compare to that in water treated animals. Also, oxycodone treated rats demonstrated accumulation of insoluble carbonyl-protein aggregates in blood plasma.ConclusionsOur data suggests that tests detecting insoluble carbonyl-protein aggregates in blood may serve as an inexpensive and minimally invasive method to monitor neuronal degeneration in patients with a history of chronic opioid use. Such methods could be used to detect toxic side effects of other medications and monitor progression of aging and neurodegenerative diseases.