Alcoholism is a chronic relapsing disorder associated with excessive consumption after periods of abstinence. Neuroadaptations in brain structure, plasticity and gene expression occur with chronic intoxication but are poorly characterized in abstinence. We propose that the identification of pathways altered during abstinence in prefrontal cortex, a brain region associated with cognitive dysfunction and damage in alcoholics, will provide information relevant to the risk of relapse in both sexes. To evaluate the influence of genetic differences, animal models with widely divergent responses to alcohol withdrawal are employed, including the Withdrawal Seizure-Resistant (WSR) and Withdrawal Seizure-Prone (WSP) selected lines. To focus results for phenotype- specific analysis of expression differences, a second model with divergent withdrawal responses, strains of inbred C57BL/6J vs. DBA/2J mice, will also be employed. Male and female mice are chronically exposed to highly intoxicating concentrations of ethanol and withdrawn, then left abstinent for 21 days. A systematic approach will be taken to characterize significant expression differences important in mediating risk of relapse, with three specific aims.
Specific aim 1 will employ high density cDNA transcriptional profiling and bioinformatic analyses to identify novel pathways significantly altered during abstinence that is dependent on withdrawal response phenotype.
The second aim will functionally test the ability of identified pathways to influence relapse, using a withdrawal-induced relapse model of elevated relapse drinking for behavioral validation of expression differences.
The third aim will define the neurotoxic and neuroadaptive consequences of persistent expression differences in these low and high withdrawal response models, and whether successful reductions in relapse drinking also reduces active neurotoxicity. Our results indicate a fundamentally distinct neuroadaptive response during abstinence in mice genetically selected for divergent withdrawal severity, with increased risk of relapse in animals with a low withdrawal response to alcohol. Identification of pathways altered in abstinence in both sexes will provide clinically relevant toos to aid development of novel therapeutics for targeted treatment of relapse in a subset of abstinent alcoholics.

Public Health Relevance

One characteristic of alcoholism is uncontrolled excessive consumption of alcohol, characterized by an inability to remain abstinent. Abstinence from alcohol drinking is an important goal for the treatment of alcoholism, but there is limited understanding of factors that influence risk of relapse and as a result few effective treatments. We propose that long-lasting persistent neuroadaptive gene expression changes that occur as a consequence of alcohol abuse and that are dependent on genotype/phenotype are mediators of the risk of relapse during abstinence. Results from these studies will identify novel, previously uncharacterized mechanisms for the development of therapeutics for targeted treatment in recovering alcoholics in both males and females, and may lead to novel targets for sex-specific or targeted treatment or amelioration of brain damage associated with chronic ethanol abuse.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Veterans Affairs (VA)
Non-HHS Research Projects (I01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Neurobiology A (NURA)
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Portland VA Medical Center
United States
Zip Code