Alcohol abuse represents a significant problem in our society. Chronic intermittent ethanol (CIE) treatment of rats (60 doses of intermittent intoxication and withdrawal), encompasses all of the major characteristics of human alcoholism, including anxiety, lowered seizure thresholds, and enhanced alcohol preference after withdrawal. At least some of these symptoms may be explained by the measured reduction in the function of the 3-aminobutyric acid (A) receptor (GABAAR) and altered sensitivity to its allosteric modulators. GABAARs mediating synaptic (phasic) and extrasynaptic (tonic) inhibition appear to be altered differently. Thus, tolerance develops to acute ethanol (EtOH) potentiation of hippocampal extrasynaptic GABAARs, while synaptic GABAARs develop high sensitivity to EtOH. Such paradoxical changes in EtOH sensitivity are proposed to underlie both the development and persistence of alcoholism. Preliminary studies suggest that altered subunit composition and localization of GABAARs may account for the observed alterations in GABAAR function within the hippocampus. However, it is unknown whether other key brain areas implicated in symptoms of alcohol withdrawal and dependence experience similar neuroadaptations. It is also unknown whether EtOH-induced neurodegeneration may account for these neuroadaptations. Underscoring the persistence of CIE-induced changes is a new observation of fundamental importance: a single intoxicating dose of EtOH results in GABAAR changes similar to those seen after CIE treatment, but recovery is seen by 1-2 weeks after this single dose.
The specific aims of this proposal were designed to address key hypotheses regarding GABAAR involvement in mechanisms of alcohol withdrawal and dependence by: 1) determining the dose-, duration-, and frequency-dependence of CIE treatment to produce long-lasting symptoms of EtOH dependence;2) studying changes in GABAAR subunit composition and function within nucleus accumbens and basolateral nucleus of the amygdala (brain areas known to be of major importance for the mechanisms of reward and dependence) and relating them to the behavioral measures of withdrawal from single or multiple EtOH treatments;and 3) determining whether neurodegeneration plays a role in altered GABAergic inhibition after EtOH intoxication through the use of histochemical and stereological techniques. The knowledge acquired from the proposed experiments will increase our understanding of the alcohol-induced alterations in GABAAR function, which has profound effects on various emotional and intellectual aspects of brain activity. This knowledge will also be useful to the development of therapeutics targeting the GABAergic system for the treatment of alcoholism.
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