Alcohol excitation of the ventral tegmental area (VTA) is important in neurobiological processes related to the development of alcoholism. The ionotropic receptors on VTA neurons that mediate ethanol-induced excitation have not been identified. Quinidine blocks ethanol excitation of VTA neurons, and blockade of two-pore potassium channels is among the actions of quinidine. Therefore two-pore potassium channels in the VTA may be potential targets for the action of ethanol. Here, we explored whether ethanol activation of VTA neurons is mediated by the two-pore potassium channel KCNK13. Extracellular recordings of the response of VTA neurons to ethanol were performed in combination with knockdown of Kcnk13 using a short hairpin RNA (shRNA) in C57BL/6 J mice. Real-time PCR and immunohistochemistry were used to examine expression of this channel in the VTA. Finally, the role of KCNK13 in binge-like drinking was examined in the drinking in the dark test after knockdown of the channel. Kcnk13 expression in the VTA was increased by acute ethanol exposure. Ethanol-induced excitation of VTA neurons was selectively reduced by shRNA targeting Kcnk13. Importantly, knockdown of Kcnk13 in the VTA resulted in increased alcohol drinking. These results are consistent with the idea that ethanol stimulates VTA neurons at least in part by inhibiting KCNK13, a specific two-pore potassium channel, and that KCNK13 can control both VTA neuronal activity and binge drinking. KCNK13 is a novel alcohol-sensitive molecular target and may be amenable to the development of pharmacotherapies for alcoholism treatment.
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) and major depressive disorder (MDD) are prevalent, debilitating, and highly comorbid disorders. The molecular changes that underlie their comorbidity are beginning to emerge. For example, recent evidence showed that acute ethanol exposure produces rapid antidepressant-like biochemical and behavioral responses. Both ethanol and fast-acting antidepressants block N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) activity, leading to synapticchanges and long-lasting antidepressant-like behavioral effects. We used RNA sequencing to analyze changes in the synaptictranscriptome after acute treatment with ethanol or the NMDAR antagonist, Ro 25-6981. Ethanol and Ro 25-6981 induced differential, independent changes in gene expression. In contrast with gene-level expression, ethanol and Ro 25-6981 produced overlappingchanges in exons, as measured by analysis of differentially expressed exons (DEEs). A prominent overlap in genes with DEEs indicated that changes in exon usage were important for both ethanol and Ro 25-6981 action. Structural modeling provided evidence that ethanol-induced exonexpression in the NMDAR1 amino-terminal domain could induce conformational changes and thus alter NMDAR function. These findings suggest that the rapid antidepressant effects of ethanol and NMDAR antagonists reported previously may depend on synapticexon usage rather than gene expression.
Although there are sex differences in the effects of alcohol on immune responses, it is unclear if sex differences in immune response can influence drinking behavior. Activation of toll-like receptor 3 (TLR3) by polyinosinic:polycytidylic acid (poly(I:C)) produced a rapid proinflammatory response in males that increased alcohol intake over time (Warden et al., 2019). Poly(I:C) produced a delayed and prolonged innate immune response in females. We hypothesized that the timecourse of innate immune activation could regulate drinking behavior in females. Therefore, we chose to test the effect of two time points in the innate immune activation timecourse on every-other-day two-bottle-choice drinking: (1) peak activation; (2) descending limb of activation. Poly(I:C) reduced ethanol consumption when alcohol access occurred during peak activation. Poly(I:C) did not change ethanol consumption when alcohol access occurred on the descending limb of activation. Decreased levels of MyD88-dependent pathway correlated with decreased alcohol intake and increased levels of TRIF-dependent pathway correlated with increased alcohol intake in females. To validate the effects of poly(I:C) were mediated through MyD88, we tested female mice lacking Myd88. Poly(I:C) did not change alcohol intake in Myd88 knockouts, indicating that poly(I:C)-induced changes in alcohol intake are dependent on MyD88 in females. We next determined if the innate immune timecourse also regulated drinking behavior in males. Poly(I:C) reduced ethanol consumption in males when alcohol was presented at peak activation. Therefore, the timecourse of innate immune activation regulates drinking behavior and sex-specific dynamics of innate immune response must be considered when designing therapeutics to treat excessive drinking
Many genes differentially expressed in brain tissue from human alcoholics and animals that have consumed large amounts of alcohol are components of the innate immune toll-like receptor (TLR) pathway. TLRs initiate inflammatory responses via two branches: (1) MyD88-dependent or (2) TRIF-dependent. All TLRs signal through MyD88 except TLR3. Prior work demonstrated a direct role for MyD88-dependent signaling in regulation of alcohol consumption. However, the role of TLR3 as a potential regulator of excessive alcohol drinking has not previously been investigated. To test the possibility TLR3 activation regulates alcohol consumption, we injected mice with the TLR3 agonist polyinosinic:polycytidylic acid (poly(I:C)) and tested alcohol consumption in an every-other-day two-bottle choice test. Poly(I:C) produced a persistent increase in alcohol intake that developed over several days. Repeated poly(I:C) and ethanol exposure altered innate immune transcript abundance; increased levels of TRIF-dependent pathway components correlated with increased alcohol consumption. Administration of poly(I:C) before exposure to alcohol did not alter alcohol intake, suggesting that poly(I:C) and ethanol must be present together to change drinking behavior. To determine which branch of TLR signaling mediates poly(I:C)-induced changes in drinking behavior, we tested either mice lacking MyD88 or mice administered a TLR3/dsRNA complex inhibitor. MyD88 null mutants showed poly(I:C)-induced increases in alcohol intake. In contrast, mice pretreated with a TLR3/dsRNA complex inhibitor reduced their alcohol intake, suggesting poly(I:C)-induced escalations in alcohol intake are, at least partially, dependent on TLR3. Together, these results strongly suggest that TLR3-dependent signaling drives excessive alcohol drinking behavior.
The interleukin-1 system (IL-1) is a prominent pro-inflammatory pathway responsible for the initiation and regulation of immune responses. Human genetic and preclinical studies suggest a critical role for IL-1β signaling in ethanol drinking and dependence, but little is known about the effects of chronic ethanol on the IL-1 system in addiction-related brain regions such as the central amygdala (CeA). In this study, we generated naïve, non-dependent (Non-Dep) and dependent (Dep) male mice using a paradigm of chronic-intermittent ethanol vapor exposure interspersed with two-bottle choice to examine 1) the expression of IL-1β, 2) the role of the IL-1 system on GABAergic transmission, and 3) the potential interaction with the acute effects of ethanol in the CeA. Immunohistochemistry with confocal microscopy was used to assess expression of IL-1β in microglia and neurons in the CeA, and whole-cell patch clamp recordings were obtained from CeA neurons to measure the effects of IL-1β (50 ng/ml) or the endogenous IL-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1ra; 100 ng/ml) on action potential-dependent spontaneous inhibitory postsynaptic currents (sIPSCs). Overall, we found that IL-1β expression is significantly increased in microglia and neurons of Dep compared to Non-Dep and naïve mice, IL-1β and IL-1ra bi-directionally modulate GABA transmission through both pre- and postsynaptic mechanisms in all three groups, and IL-1β and IL-1ra do not alter the facilitation of GABA release induced by acute ethanol. These data suggest that while ethanol dependence induces a neuroimmune response in the CeA, as indicated by increased IL-1β expression, this does not significantly alter the neuromodulatory role of IL-1β on synaptic transmission.
Ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) have been established as an animal model of emotional status and are often utilized in drug abuse studies as motivational and emotional indices. Further USV functionality has been demonstrated in our recent work showing accurate identification of selectively-bred high versus low alcohol-consuming male rats ascertained exclusively from 22 to 28kHz and 50-55kHz FM USV acoustic parameters. With the hypothesis that alcohol-sensitive sex differences could be revealed through USV acoustic parameters, the present study examined USVs and alcohol consumption in male and female selectively bred high-alcohol drinking (HAD-1) rats. For the current study, we examined USV data collected during a 12-week experiment in male and female HAD-1 rats. Experimental phases included Baseline (2weeks), 4-h EtOH Access (4weeks), 24-h EtOH Access (4weeks) and Abstinence (2weeks). Findings showed that both male and female HAD-1 rats spontaneously emitted a large number of 22-28kHz and 50-55kHz FM USVs and that females drank significantly more alcohol compared to males over the entire course of the experiment. Analyses of USV acoustic characteristics (i.e. mean frequency, duration, bandwidth and power) revealed distinct sex-specific phenotypes in both 50-55kHz FM and 22-28kHz USV transmission that were modulated by ethanol exposure. Moreover, by using a linear combination of these acoustic characteristics, we were able to develop binomial logistic regression models able to discriminate between male and female HAD-1 rats with high accuracy. Together these results highlight unique emotional phenotypes in male and female HAD-1 rats that are differentially modulated by alcohol experience.
Alcohol exposure triggers changes in gene expression and biological pathways in human brain. We explored alterations in gene expression in the Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC) of 65 alcoholics and 73 controls of European descent, and identified 129 genes that showed altered expression (FDR < 0.05) in subjects with alcohol dependence. Differentially expressed genes were enriched for pathways related to interferon signaling and Growth Arrest and DNA Damage-inducible 45 (GADD45) signaling. A coexpression module (thistle2) identified by weighted gene co-expression network analysis (WGCNA) was significantly correlated with alcohol dependence, alcohol consumption, and AUDIT scores. Genes in the thistle2 module were enriched with genes related to calcium signaling pathways and showed significant downregulation of these pathways, as well as enrichment for biological processes related to nicotine response and opioid signaling. A second module (brown4) showed significant upregulation of pathways related to immune signaling. Expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs) for genes in the brown4 module were also enriched for genetic associations with alcohol dependence and alcohol consumption in large genome-wide studies included in the Psychiatric Genetic Consortium and the UK Biobank's alcohol consumption dataset. By leveraging multi-omics data, this transcriptome analysis has identified genes and biological pathways that could provide insight for identifying therapeutic targets for alcohol dependence.
Alcohol use disorder is a significant global burden. Stress has been identified as an etiological factor in the initiation and continuation of ethanol consumption. Understanding adaptations within stress circuitry is an important step toward novel treatment strategies. The effects of protractedabstinence following long-term ethanol self-administration on the centralnucleus of the amygdala (CeA) and the hypothalamicparaventricularnucleus (PVN) were evaluated in malerhesusmonkeys. Using whole-cell patch-clamp electrophysiology, inhibitory GABAergic transmission in the CeA and excitatory glutamatergic transmission in the PVN were measured. CeA neurons from abstinent drinkers displayed an elevated baseline spontaneous inhibitory postsynaptic current (sIPSC) frequency compared with controls, indicating increased presynaptic GABA release. Application of acute ethanol significantly increased the frequency of sIPSCs in controls, but not in abstinent drinkers, suggesting a tolerance to ethanol-enhanced GABA release in abstinent rhesusmonkeys with a history of chronic ethanol self-administration and repeated abstinence. In the PVN, the frequency of spontaneous excitatory postsynaptic currents (sEPSC) was elevated in abstinent drinkers compared with controls, indicating increased presynaptic glutamate release. Notably, acute ethanol decreased presynaptic glutamate release onto parvocellular PVN neurons in both controls and abstinent drinkers, suggesting a lack of tolerance to acute ethanol among PVN neurons. These results are the first to demonstrate distinct synapticadaptations and ethanol sensitivity in both the extrahypothalamic and hypothalamic stress circuits in abstinent rhesus males. Importantly, our findings describe adaptations in stress circuitry present in the brain at a state during abstinence, just prior to relapse to ethanol drinking.
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a widespread disease with limited treatment options. Targeting the neuroimmune system is a new avenue for developing or repurposing effective pharmacotherapies. Alcohol modulates innate immune signaling in different cell types in the brain by altering gene expression and the molecular pathways that regulate neuroinflammation. Chronic alcohol abuse may cause an imbalance in neuroimmune function, resulting in prolonged perturbations in brain function. Likewise, manipulating the neuroimmune system may change alcohol-related behaviors. Psychiatric disorders that are comorbid with AUD, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, and other substance use disorders, may also have underlying neuroimmune mechanisms; current evidence suggests that convergent immune pathways may be involved in AUD and in these comorbid disorders. In this review, we provide an overview of major neuroimmune cell-types and pathways involved in mediating alcohol behaviors, discuss potential mechanisms of alcohol-induced neuroimmune activation, and present recent clinical evidence for candidate immune-related drugs to treat AUD.
Genetically engineered animals are powerful tools that have provided invaluable insights into mechanisms of alcohol action and alcohol-use disorder. Traditionally, production of gene-targeted animals was a tremendously expensive, time consuming, and technically demanding undertaking. However, the recent advent of facile methods for editing the genome at very high efficiency is revolutionizing how these animals are made. While pioneering approaches to create gene-edited animals first used zinc finger nucleases and subsequently used transcription activator-like effector nucleases, these approaches have been largely supplanted in an extremely short period of time with the recent discovery and precocious maturation of the Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) system. CRISPR uses a short RNA sequence to guide a non-specific CRISPR-associated nuclease (Cas) to a precise, single location in the genome. Because the CRISPR/Cas system can be cheaply, rapidly, and easily reprogrammed to target nearly any genomic locus of interest simply by recoding the sequence of the guide RNA, this gene-editing system has been rapidly adopted by numerous labs around the world. With CRISPR/Cas, it is now possible to perform gene editing directly in early embryos from every species of animals that is of interest to the alcohol field. Techniques have been developed that enable the rapid production of animals in which a gene has been inactivated (knockout) or modified to harbor specific nucleotide changes (knockins). This system has also been used to insert specific DNA sequences such as reporter or recombinase genes into specific loci of interest. Genetically engineered animals created with the CRISPR/Cas system (CRISPy Critters) are being produced at an astounding pace. Animal production is no longer a significant bottleneck to new discoveries. CRISPy animal studies are just beginning to appear in the alcohol literature, but their use is expected to explode in the near future. CRISPy mice, rats, and other model organisms are sure to facilitate advances in our understanding of alcohol-use disorder.
Variations in pattern and extent of cognitive and motor impairment occur in alcoholism (ALC). Causes of such heterogeneity are elusive and inconsistently accounted for by demographic or alcoholconsumption differences. We examined neurological and nutritionalfactors as possible contributors to heterogeneity in impairment. Participants with ALC (n = 96) and a normal comparison group (n = 41) were examined on six cognitive and motor domains. Signs of historically determined subclinical Wernicke's encephalopathy were detected using the Caine et al. criteria, which were based on postmortem examination and chart review of antemortem data of alcoholic cases with postmortem evidence for Wernicke's encephalopathy. Herein, four Caine criteria provided quantification of dietary deficiency, cerebellar dysfunction, low general cognitive functioning and oculomotor abnormalities in 86 of the 96 ALC participants. Subgroups based on Caine criteria yielded a graded effect, where those meeting more criteria exhibited greater impairment than those meeting no to fewer criteria. These results could not be accounted for by history of drug dependence. Multiple regression indicated that compromised performance on ataxia, indicative of cerebellar dysfunction, predicted non-mnemonic and upper motordeficits, whereas low whole blood thiamine level, consistent with limbic circuit dysfunction, predicted mnemonic deficits. This double dissociation indicates biological markers that contribute to heterogeneity in expression of functional impairment in ALC. That non-mnemonic and mnemonic deficits are subserved by the dissociable neural systems of frontocerebellar and limbic circuitry, both commonly disrupted in ALC, suggests neural mechanisms that can differentially affect selective functions, thereby contributing to heterogeneity in pattern and extent of dysfunction in ALC.
Two independent lines of HighDrinking in the Dark (HDID-1, HDID-2) mice have been bred to reach high blood alcohol levels after a short period of binge-like ethanoldrinking. Male mice of both lines were shown to have reduced sensitivity to develop a tasteaversion to a novel flavor conditioned by ethanol injections as compared with their unselected HS/NPT founder stock. We have subsequently developed inbred variants of each line. The current experiments established that reduced ethanol-conditionedtasteaversion is also seen in the inbred variants, in both males and females. In other experiments, we asked whether HDID mice would ingest sufficient doses of ethanol to lead to a conditionedtasteaversion upon retest. Different manipulations were used to elevate consumption of ethanol on initial exposure. Access to increased ethanol concentrations, to multiple tubes of ethanol, and fluid restriction to increase thirst motivation all enhanced initial drinking of ethanol. Each condition led to reduced intake the next day, consistent with a mild conditionedtasteaversion. These experiments support the conclusion that one reason contributing to the willingness of HDID mice to drink to the point of intoxication is a genetic insensitivity to the aversive effects of ethanol.
The voltage-gated sodium channel subunit β4 (SCN4B) regulates neuronal activity by modulating channel gating and has been implicated in ethanol consumption in rodent models and human alcoholics. However, the functional role for Scn4b in ethanol-mediated behaviors is unknown. We determined if genetic global knockout or targeted knockdown of Scn4b in the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) altered ethanol drinking or related behaviors. We used four different ethanol consumption procedures (continuous and intermittent two-bottle choice, drinking-in-the dark, and chronic intermittent ethanol vapor) and found that male and female Scn4b knockout mice did not differ from their wild-type littermates in ethanol consumption in any of the tests. Knockdown of Scn4b mRNA in the CeA also did not alter two-bottle choice ethanol drinking. However, Scn4b knockout mice demonstrated longer duration of the loss of righting reflex induced by ethanol, gaboxadol, pentobarbital, and ketamine. Knockout mice showed slower recovery to basal levels of handling-induced convulsions after ethanol injection, which is consistent with the increased sedativeeffects observed in these mice. However, Scn4b knockout mice did not differ in the severity of acute ethanol withdrawal. Acoustic startle responses, ethanol-induced hypothermia, and clearance of blood ethanol also did not differ between the genotypes. There were also no functional differences in the membrane properties or excitability of CeA neurons from Scn4b knockout and wild-type mice. Although we found no evidence that Scn4bregulatesethanol consumption in mice, it was involved in the acute hypnoticeffects of ethanol and other sedatives.
Mu opioid receptors (MORs) are widely distributed throughout brain reward circuits and their role in drug and social reward is well established. Substantial evidence has implicated MOR and the endogenous opioid system in alcohol reward, but circuit mechanisms of MOR‐mediated alcohol reward and intake behavior remain elusive, and have not been investigated by genetic approaches. We recently created conditional knockout (KO) mice targeting the Oprm1 gene in GABAergic forebrain neurons. These mice (Dlx‐MOR KO) show a major MOR deletion in the striatum, whereas receptors in midbrain (including the Ventral Tegmental Area or VTA) and hindbrain are intact. Here, we compared alcohol‐drinking behavior and rewarding effects in total (MOR KO) and conditional KO mice. Concordant with our previous work, MOR KO mice drank less alcohol in continuous and intermittent two‐bottle choice protocols. Remarkably, Dlx‐MOR KO mice showed reduced drinking similar to MOR KO mice, demonstrating that MOR in the forebrain is responsible for the observed phenotype. Further, alcohol‐induced conditioned place preference was detected in control but not MOR KO mice, indicating that MOR is essential for alcohol reward and again, Dlx‐MOR KO recapitulated the MOR KO phenotype. Taste preference and blood alcohol levels were otherwise unchanged in mutant lines. Together, our data demonstrate that MOR expressed in forebrain GABAergic neurons is essential for alcohol reward‐driven behaviors, including drinking and place conditioning. Challenging the prevailing VTA‐centric hypothesis, this study reveals another mechanism of MOR‐mediated alcohol reward and consumption, which does not necessarily require local VTA MORs but rather engages striatal MOR‐dependent mechanisms.
Individuals aged 12-20 years drink 11% of all alcohol consumed in the United States with more than 90% consumed in the form of bingedrinking. Early onset alcohol use is a strong predictor of future alcohol dependence. The study of the effects of excessive alcohol use on the human brain is hampered by limited information regarding the quantity and frequency of exposure to alcohol. Animal models can control for age at alcohol exposure onset and enable isolation of neural substrates of exposure to different patterns and quantities of ethanol (EtOH). As with humans, a frequently used binge exposure model is thought to produce dependence and affect predominantly corticolimbic brainregions. in vivo neuroimaging enables animals models to be examined longitudinally, allowing for each animal to serve as its own control. Accordingly, we conducted 3 magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) sessions (baseline, binge, recovery) to track structure throughout the brains of wild type Wistar rats to test the hypothesis that binge EtOH exposure affects specific brain regions in addition to corticolimbic circuitry. Voxel-based comparisons of 13 EtOH- vs. 12 water- exposed animals identified significant thalamic shrinkage and lateral ventricular enlargement as occurring with EtOH exposure, but recovering with a week of abstinence. By contrast, pretectal nuclei and superior and inferior colliculi shrank in response to binge EtOH treatment but did not recover with abstinence. These results identify brainstem structures that have been relatively underreported but are relevant for localizing neurocircuitry relevant to the dynamic course of alcoholism.
Excessive alcohol consumption in humans induces deficits in decision making and emotional processing, which indicates a dysfunction of the prefrontal cortex (PFC). The present study aimed to determine the impact of chronic intermittent ethanol (CIE) inhalation on mouse medial PFC pyramidal neurons. Data were collected 6-8 days into withdrawal from 7 weeks of CIE exposure, a time point when mice exhibit behavioral symptoms of withdrawal. We found that spine maturity in prelimbic (PL) layer 2/3 neurons was increased, while dendritic spines in PL layer 5 neurons or infralimbic (IL) neurons were not affected. Corroborating these morphological observations, CIE enhanced glutamatergic transmission in PL layer 2/3 pyramidal neurons, but not IL layer 2/3 neurons. Contrary to our predictions, these cellular alterations were associated with improved, rather than impaired, performance in reversal learning and strategy switching tasks in the Barnes maze at an earlier stage of chronic ethanol exposure (5-7 days withdrawal from 3 to 4 weeks of CIE), which could result from the anxiety-like behavior associated with ethanol withdrawal. Altogether, this study adds to a growing body of literature indicating that glutamatergic activity in the PFC is upregulated following chronic ethanol exposure, and identifies PL layer 2/3 pyramidal neurons as a sensitive target of synaptic remodeling. It also indicates that the Barnes maze is not suitable to detect deficits in cognitive flexibility in CIE-withdrawn mice.
The agranular insular cortex (AIC) has recently been investigated by the alcohol field because of its connectivity to and modulatory control over limbic and brainstem regions implicated in alcohol use disorder (AUD), and because it has shown involvement in animal models of alcohol drinking. Despite evidence of AIC involvement in AUD, there has not yet been an examination of whether ethanol modulatesglutamatergic and γ-amino-butyric acid (GABA)ergic synaptic transmission and plasticity in the AIC. Characterizing how the synaptictransmission and plasticity states of AIC cortical processing neurons are modulated by acute ethanol will likely reveal the molecular targets by which chronic ethanol alters AIC function as alcohol drinking transitions from controlled to problematic. Therefore, we collected brain slices from ethanol-naïve adult male mice, obtained whole-cell recording configuration in layer 2/3 AIC pyramidal neurons, and bath-applied ethanolat pharmacologically relevant concentrations during electrophysiological assays of glutamatergic and GABAergic synaptic transmission and plasticity. We found that ethanol inhibited electrically evoked N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR)-mediated excitatory post-synapticcurrents (EPSCs) in a concentration-related fashion, and had little effect on evoked α-amino-3-hydrox-5-methylisoxazole-4-propionic acid-type receptor (AMPAR)-mediated EPSCs. Ethanol had no effect on spontaneous excitatory post-synaptic currents (sEPSCs) or inhibitory GABAAR-mediated post-synaptic currents (sIPSCs). We found that synaptic conditioning (low-frequency stimulation for 15 min at 1 Hz) induced a form of long-term depression (LTD) of evoked AMPAR-mediated EPSCs. The ability to induce LTD was inhibited by a non-selective NMDAR antagonist (DL-2-amino-5-phosphonovaleric acid), and also by acute, intoxicating concentrations of ethanol. Taken together these data suggest that the glutamate, but not GABA system in the AIC is uniquely sensitive to ethanol, and that in particular NMDAR-mediatedprocesses in the AIC may be disrupted by pharmacologically relevant concentrations of ethanol.
The LIM domain only protein LMO3 is a transcriptional regulator that has been shown to regulate several behavioral responses to alcohol. Specifically, Lmo3 null (Lmo3Z) mice consume more ethanol in a binge-drinking test and show enhanced ethanol-induced sedation. Due to the high comorbidity of alcohol use and anxiety, we investigated anxiety-like behavior in Lmo3Z mice. Lmo3Z mice spent more time in the open arms of the elevated plus maze compared with their wild-type littermates, but the effect was confounded by reduced locomotor activity. To verify the anxiety phenotype in the Lmo3Z mice, we tested them for novelty-induced hypophagia and found that they also showed reduced anxiety in this test. We next explored the mechanism by which LMO3 might regulate anxiety by measuring mRNA and protein levels of corticotropin releasing factor (encoded by the Crh gene) and its receptor type 1 (Crhr1) in Lmo3Z mice. Reduced Crhr1 mRNA and protein was evident in the basolateral amygdala (BLA) of Lmo3Z mice. To examine whether Lmo3 in the amygdala is important for anxiety-like behavior, we locally reduced Lmo3 expression in the BLA of wild type mice using a lentiviral vector expressing a short hairpin RNA targeting the Lmo3 transcript. Mice with Lmo3 knockdown in the BLA exhibited decreased anxiety-like behavior relative to control mice. These results suggest that Lmo3 promotes anxiety-like behavior specifically in the BLA, possibly by altering Crhr1 expression. This study is the first to support a role for Lmo3 in anxiety-like behavior.
Stress-related psychiatric disorders such as major depression are strongly associated with alcohol abuse and alcohol use disorder. Recently, many epidemiological and preclinical studies suggest that chronic stress prior to conception has cross-generational effects on the behaviorand physiological response to stress in subsequent generations. Thus, we hypothesized that chronic stress may also affect ethanol drinkingbehaviors in the next generation. In the first cohort of mice, we found that paternal preconception chronic variable stress significantly reduced both two-bottle choice and binge-like ethanol drinking selectively in male offspring. However, these results were not replicated in a second cohort that were tested under experimental conditions that were nearly identical, except for one notable difference. Cohort 1 offspring were derived from in-house C57BL/6J sires that were born in the animal vivarium at the University of Pittsburgh whereas cohort 2 offspring were derived from C57BL/6J sires shipped directly from the vendor. Therefore, a third cohort that included both in-house and vendor born sires was analyzed. Consistent with the first two cohorts, we observed a significant interaction between chronic stress and sire-source with only stressed sires that were born in-house able to impart reduced ethanol drinking behaviors to male offspring. Overall, these results demonstrate that paternal preconception stress can impact ethanol drinking behavior in males of the next generation. These studies provide additional support for a recently recognized role of the paternal preconception environment in shaping ethanol drinking behavior.
Mu opioid receptor (MOR) activation facilitates reward processing and reduces pain, and brain networks underlying these effects are under intense investigation. Mice lacking the MOR gene (MOR KO mice) show lower drug and social reward, enhanced pain sensitivity and altered emotional responses. Our previous neuroimaging analysis using Resting-state (Rs) functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) showed significant alterations of functional connectivity (FC) within reward/aversion networks in these mice, in agreement with their behavioral deficits. Here we further used a structural MRI approach to determine whether volumetric alterations also occur in MOR KO mice. We acquired anatomical images using a 7-Tesla MRI scanner and measured deformation-based morphometry (DBM) for each voxel in subjects from MOR KO and control groups. Our analysis shows marked anatomical differences in mutant animals. We observed both local volumetric contraction (striatum, nucleus accumbens, bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, hippocampus, hypothalamus and periacqueducal gray) and expansion (prefrontal cortex, amygdala, habenula, and periacqueducal gray) at voxel level. Volumetric modifications occurred mainly in MOR-enriched regions and across reward/aversion centers, consistent with our prior FC findings. Specifically, several regions with volume differences corresponded to components showing highest FC changes in our previous Rs-fMRI study, suggesting a possible function-structure relationship in MOR KO-related brain differences. In conclusion, both Rs-fMRI and volumetric MRI in live MOR KO mice concur to disclose functional and structural whole-brain level mechanisms that likely drive MOR-controlled behaviors in animals, and may translate to MOR-associated endophenotypes or disease in humans.