Among the neurological consequences of alcoholism is peripheral neuropathy. Relative to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or diabetes-related neuropathies, neuropathy associated with alcohol use disorders (AUD) is understudied. In both the diabetes and HIV literature, emerging evidence supports a central nervous system (CNS) component to peripheral neuropathy.
In seeking a central substrate for AUD-related neuropathy, the current study was conducted in 154 individuals with AUD (43 women, age 21 to 74 years) and 99 healthy controls (41 women, age 21 to 77 years) and explored subjective symptoms (self-report) and objective signs (perception of vibration, deep tendon ankle reflex, position sense, 2-point discrimination) of neuropathy separately. In addition to regional brain volumes, risk factors for AUD-related neuropathy, including age, sex, total lifetime ethanol consumed, nutritional indices (i.e., thiamine, folate), and measures of liver integrity (i.e., γ-glutamyltransferase), were evaluated.
The AUD group described more subjective symptoms of neuropathy and was more frequently impaired on bilateral perception of vibration. From 5 correlates, the number of AUD-related seizures was most significantly associated with subjective symptoms of neuropathy. There were 15 correlates of impaired perception of vibration among the AUD participants: Of these, age and volume of frontal precentral cortex were the most robust predictors.
This study supports CNS involvement in objective signs of neuropathy in AUD.
Adolescent alcohol drinking has been linked to increased risk for drug abuse during adulthood. Nicotine microinjected directly into the posterior ventral tegmental area (pVTA) stimulates dopamine (DA) release in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) shell. The α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) is a potent regulator of dopaminergic activity in the pVTA. The current experiments examined the effects of peri-adolescent ethanol (EtOH) drinking on the ability of intra-pVTA nicotine to stimulate DA release during adulthood and alterations in α7 nAChR expression within the pVTA. Alcohol-preferring (P) female rats consumed EtOH and/or water during adolescence (post-natal day [PND] 30-60) or adulthood (PND 90-120). Thirty days following removal of EtOH, subjects received microinjections of 1 μM, 10 μM, or 50 μM nicotine into the pVTA concurrently with microdialysis for extracellular DA in the NAc shell. Brains were harvested from an additional cohort after PND 90 for quantification of α7 nAChR within the pVTA. The results indicated that only adolescent EtOH consumption produced a leftward and upward shift in the dose response curve for nicotine to stimulate DA release in the NAc shell. Investigation of α7 nAChR expression within the pVTA revealed a significant increase in animals that consumed EtOH during adolescence compared to naïve animals. The data suggests that peri-adolescent EtOH consumption produced cross-sensitization to the effects of nicotine during adulthood. The interaction between adolescent EtOH consumption and inflated adult risk for drug dependency could be predicated, at least in part, upon alterations in α7 nAChR expression within the mesolimbic reward pathway.
Recent advances in robust and reliable methods of MRI-derived cerebellar lobule parcellation volumetry present the opportunity to assess effects of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) on selective cerebellar lobules and relations with indices of nutrition and motor functions. In pursuit of this opportunity, we analyzed high-resolution MRI data acquired in 24 individuals with AUD and 20 age- and sex-matched controls with a 32-channel head coil using three different atlases: the online automated analysis pipeline volBrain Ceres, SUIT, and the Johns Hopkins atlas. Participants had also completed gait and balance examination and hematological analysis of nutritional and liver status, enabling testing of functional meaningfulness of each cerebellar parcellation scheme. Compared with controls, each quantification approach yielded similar patterns of group differences in regional volumes: All three approaches identified AUD-related deficits in total tissue and total gray matter, but only Ceres identified a total white matter volume deficit. Convergent volume differences occurred in lobules I-V, Crus I, VIIIB, and IX. Coefficients of variation (CVs) were <20% for 46 of 56 regions measured and in general were graded: Ceres<SUIT<Hopkins. The most robust correlations were identified between poorer stability in balancing on one leg and smaller lobule VI and Crus I volumes from the Ceres atlas. Lower values of two essential vitamins-thiamine (vitamin B1) and serum folate (vitamin B9)-along with lower red blood cell count, which are dependent on adequate levels of B vitamins, correlated with smaller gray matter volumes of lobule VI and Crus I. Higher γ-glutamyl transferase (GGT) levels, possibly reflecting compromised liver function, correlated with smaller volumes of lobules VI and X. These initial results based on high resolution data produced with clinically practical imaging procedures hold promise for expanding our knowledge about the relevance of focal cerebellar morphology in AUD and other neuropsychiatric conditions.
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a complex, dynamic condition that waxes and wanes with unhealthy drinking episodes and varies in drinking patterns and effects on brain structure and function with age. Its excessive use renders chronically heavy drinkers vulnerable to direct alcohol toxicity and a variety of comorbidities attributable to nonalcohol drug misuse, viral infections, and accelerated or premature aging. AUD affects widespread brain systems, commonly, frontolimbic, frontostriatal, and frontocerebellar networks.
METHOD AND RESULTS:
Multimodal assessment using selective neuropsychological testing and whole-brain neuroimaging provides evidence for AUD-related specific brain structure-function relations established with double dissociations. Longitudinal study using noninvasive imaging provides evidence for brain structural and functional improvement with sustained sobriety and further decline with relapse. Functional imaging suggests the possibility that some alcoholics in recovery can compensate for impairment by invoking brain systems typically not used for a target task but that can enable normal-level performance.
Evidence for AUD-aging interactions, indicative of accelerated aging, together with increasing alcohol consumption in middle-age and older adults, put aging drinkers at special risk for developing cognitive decline and possibly dementia. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).
While alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a highly heritable psychiatric disease, efforts to elucidate that heritability by examining genetic variation (e.g., single nucleotide polymorphisms) have been insufficient to fully account for familial AUD risk. Perhaps not coincidently, there has been a burgeoning interest in novel nongenomic mechanisms of inheritance (i.e., epigenetics) that are shaped in the male or female germ cells by significant lifetime experiences such as exposure to chronic stress, malnutrition, or drugs of abuse. While many epidemiological and preclinical studies have long pointed to a role for the parental preconception environment in offspring behavior, over the last decade many studies have implicated a causal relationship between the environmentally sensitive sperm epigenome and intergenerational phenotypes. This critical review will detail the heritable effects of alcohol and the potential role for epigenetics.
Accumulating evidence from preclinical and clinical studies has implicated a role for the cytokine IL-6 in a variety of CNS diseases including anxiety-like and depressive-like behaviors, as well as alcohol use disorder. Here we use homozygous and heterozygous transgenic mice expressing elevated levels of IL-6 in the CNS due to increased astrocyte expression and non-transgenic littermates to examine a role for astrocyte-produced IL-6 in emotionality (response to novelty, anxiety-like, and depressive-like behaviors). Our results from homozygous IL-6 mice in a variety of behavioral tests (light/dark transfer, open field, digging, tail suspension, and forced swim tests) support a role for IL-6 in stress-coping behaviors. Ex vivo electrophysiological studies of neuronal excitability and inhibitory GABAergic synaptic transmission in the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) of the homozygous transgenic mice revealed increased inhibitory GABAergic signaling and increased excitability of CeA neurons, suggesting a role for astrocyte produced IL-6 in the amygdala in exploratory drive and depressive-like behavior. Furthermore, studies in the hippocampus of activation/expression of proteins associated with IL-6 signal transduction and inhibitory GABAergic mechanisms support a role for astrocyte produced IL-6 in depressive-like behaviors. Our studies indicate a complex and dose-dependent relationship between IL-6 and behavior and implicate IL-6 induced neuroadaptive changes in neuronal excitability and the inhibitory GABAergic system as important contributors to altered behavior associated with IL-6 expression in the CNS.
The unconventional N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor subunits GluN3A and GluN3B can, when associated with the other glycine-binding subunit GluN1, generate excitatory conductances purely activated by glycine. However, functional GluN1/GluN3 receptors have not been identified in native adult tissues. We discovered that GluN1/GluN3A receptors are operational in neurons of the mouse adult medial habenula (MHb), an epithalamic area controlling aversive physiological states. In the absence of glycinergic neuronal specializations in the MHb, glial cells tuned neuronal activity via GluN1/GluN3A receptors. Reducing GluN1/GluN3A receptor levels in the MHb prevented place-aversion conditioning. Our study extends the physiological and behavioral implications of glycine by demonstrating its control of negatively valued emotional associations via excitatory glycinergic NMDA receptors.
Chronic alcohol consumption alters the levels of microRNAs and mRNAs in the brain, but the specific microRNAs and processes that target mRNAs to affect cellular function and behavior are not known. We examined the in vivo manipulation of previously identified alcohol-responsive microRNAs as potential targets to reduce alcohol consumption. Silencing of miR-411 by infusing antagomiR-411 into the prefrontal cortex of female C57BL/6J mice reduced alcohol consumption and preference, without altering total fluid consumption, saccharin consumption, or anxiety-related behaviors. AntagomiR-411 reduced alcohol consumption when given to mice exposed to a chronic alcohol drinking paradigm but did not affect the acquisition of consumption in mice without a history of alcohol exposure, suggesting that antagomiR-411 has a neuroadaptive, alcohol-dependent effect. AntagomiR-411 decreased the levels of miR-411, as well as the association of immunoprecipitated miR-411 with Argonaute2; and, it increased levels of Faah and Ppard mRNAs. Moreover, antagomiR-411 increased the neuronal expression of glutamate receptor AMPA-2 protein, a known alcohol target and a predicted target of miR-411. These results suggest that alcohol and miR-411 function in a homeostatic manner to regulate synaptic mRNA and protein, thus reversing alcohol-related neuroadaptations and reducing chronic alcohol consumption.
The orphan receptor GPR88 is highly expressed in D1 receptor (D1R)- and D2R-medium spiny neurons (MSNs) and has been associated to striatum-dependent functions in rodents. The total deletion of Gpr88 in mice was shown to decrease anxiety-like behaviors, increase stereotypies and locomotion, and impair motor coordination and motor learning. Knowing the opposing role of D1R- and D2R-MSNs, we here investigated the respective roles of GPR88 in the two MSN subtypes for these behaviors. To do so, we compared effects of a conditional Gpr88 gene knock-out (KO) in D1R-MSNs (D1R-Gpr88 mice) or D2R-MSNs (A2AR-Gpr88 mice) with effects of the total Gpr88 KO (CMV-Gpr88 mice). Overall, most phenotypes of CMV-Gpr88 mice were recapitulated in A2AR-Gpr88 mice, including reduced marble burying, increased social interactions, increased locomotor activity and stereotypies in the open field, and reduced motor coordination in the rotarod. Exceptions were the reduced habituation to the open field and reduced motor skill learning, which were observed in CMV-Gpr88 and D1R-Gpr88 mice, but not in A2AR-Gpr88 mice. D1R-Gpr88 mice otherwise showed no other phenotype in this study. Our data together show that GPR88 modulates the function of both D1R- and D2R-MSNs, and that GPR88 activity in these two neuron populations has very different and dissociable impacts on behavior. We suggest that GPR88 in D2R-MSNs shapes defensive and social behavior and contributes in maintaining the inhibition of basal ganglia outputs to control locomotion, stereotypies and motor coordination, while GPR88 in D1R-MSNs promotes novelty habituation and motor learning.
Chronic alcohol exposure is associated with increased reliance on behavioral strategies involving the dorsolateral striatum (DLS), including habitual or stimulus-response behaviors. Presynaptic G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) on cortical and thalamic inputs to the DLS inhibit glutamate release, and alcohol-induced disruption of presynaptic GPCR function represents a mechanism by which alcohol could disinhibit DLS neurons and thus bias toward use of DLS-dependent behaviors. Metabotropic glutamate receptor 2 (mGlu2) is a Gi/o-coupled GPCR that robustly modulates glutamate transmission in the DLS, inducing long-term depression (LTD) at both cortical and thalamic synapses. Loss of mGlu2 function has recently been associated with increased ethanol seeking and consumption, but the ability of alcohol to produce adaptations in mGlu2 function in the DLS has not been investigated. We exposed male C57Bl/6J mice to a 2-week chronic intermittent ethanol (CIE) paradigm followed by a brief withdrawal period, then used whole-cell patch clamp recordings of glutamatergic transmission in the striatum to assess CIE effects on mGlu2-mediated synaptic plasticity. We report that CIE differentially disrupts mGlu2-mediated long-term depression in the DLS vs. dorsomedial striatum (DMS). Interestingly, CIE-induced impairment of mGlu2-LTD in the dorsolateral striatum is only observed when alcohol exposure occurs during adolescence. Incubation of striatal slices from CIE-exposed adolescent mice with a positive allosteric modulator of mGlu2 fully rescues mGlu2-LTD. In contrast to the 2-week CIE paradigm, acute exposure of striatal slices to ethanol concentrations that mimic ethanol levels during CIE exposure fails to disrupt mGlu2-LTD. We did not observe a reduction of mGlu2 mRNA or protein levels following CIE exposure, suggesting that alcohol effects on mGlu2 occur at the functional level. Our findings contribute to growing evidence that adolescents are uniquely vulnerable to certain alcohol-induced neuroadaptations, and identify enhancement of mGlu2 activity as a strategy to reverse the effects of adolescent alcohol exposure on DLS physiology.
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 protracted abstinence following long-term ethanol self-administration on the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) and the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVN) were evaluated in male rhesus monkeys. 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 rhesus monkeys 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 synaptic adaptations 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.
Although not legally allowed to consume alcohol, adolescents account for 11% of all alcohol use in the United States and approximately 90% of adolescent intake is in the form of an alcohol binge. The adolescent intermittent ethanol (AIE) model developed by the NADIA consortium produces binge‐like EtOH exposure episodes. The current experiment examined the effects of AIE on the reinforcing properties of EtOH and genetic expression of cholinergic and dopaminergic factors within the posterior ventral tegmental area (pVTA) in Wistar male and female rats and in male alcohol‐preferring (P) rats.
Rats were exposed to the AIE or water during adolescence, and all testing occurred during adulthood. Wistar control and AIE rats were randomly assigned to groups that self‐administered 0 to 200 mg% EtOH. Male P rats self‐administered 0 to 100 mg%.
The data indicated that exposure to AIE in both Wistar male and female rats (and male P rats) resulted in a significant leftward shift in dose–response curve for EtOH self‐administration into the pVTA. TaqMan array indicated that AIE exposure had divergent effects on the expression of nicotinic receptors (increased a7, reduction in a4 and a5). There were also sex‐specific effects of AIE on gene expression; male only reduction in D3 receptors.
Binge‐like EtOH exposure during adolescence enhances the sensitivity to the reinforcing properties of EtOH during adulthood which could be part of biological sequelae that are the basis for the deleterious effects of adolescent alcohol consumption on the rate of alcoholism during adulthood.
Evidence indicates that drug-paired stimuli can evoke drug-craving leading to drug-seeking and repeated relapse periods can influence drug-seeking behaviors.
The present study examined (1) the effect of an interaction between repeated deprivation cycles and excitatory conditioning stimuli (CS+) on ethanol (EtOH)-seeking; (2) the effects of EtOH-paired cue-exposure in a non-drug-paired environment on subsequent conditioning in a drug-paired environment; and (3) the temporal effects of conditioned cues on subsequent EtOH-seeking.
Adult female alcohol-preferring (P) rats were exposed to three conditioned odor cues; CS+ associated with EtOH self-administration, CS- associated with the absence of EtOH (extinction training), and a neutral stimulus (CS0) presented in a neutral non-drug-paired environment. The rats underwent four deprivation cycles or were non-deprived, following extinction they were maintained in a home cage for an EtOH-free period, and then exposed to no cue, CS+, CS-, or CS0 to assess the effect of the conditioned cues on EtOH-seeking behavior.
Repeated deprivations enhanced and prolonged the duration of CS+ effects on EtOH-seeking. Presentation of the CS- in a non-drug-paired environment blocked the ability of a CS+ to enhance EtOH-seeking in a drug-paired environment. Presentation of the CS+ or CS- in a non-drug-paired environment 2 or 4 h earlier significantly altered EtOH-seeking.
Results indicated an interaction between repeated deprivation cycles and CS+ resulted in a potentiation of CS+ evoked EtOH-seeking. In addition, a CS- may have therapeutic potential by providing prophylactic protection against relapse behavior in the presence of cues in the drug-using environment.
Chronic alcohol abuse alters the molecular structure and function of brain cells. Recent work suggests adaptations made by glial cells, such as astrocytes and microglia, regulate physiological and behavioral changes associated with addiction. Defining how alcohol dependence alters the transcriptome of different cell types is critical for developing the mechanistic hypotheses necessary for a nuanced understanding of cellular signaling in the alcohol-dependent brain. We performed RNA-sequencing on total homogenate and glial cell populations isolated from mouse prefrontal cortex (PFC) following chronic intermittent ethanol vapor exposure (CIE). Compared with total homogenate, we observed unique and robust gene expression changes in astrocytes and microglia in response to CIE. Gene co-expression network analysis revealed biological pathways and hub genes associated with CIE in astrocytes and microglia that may regulate alcohol-dependent phenotypes. Astrocyte identity and synaptic calcium signaling genes were enriched in alcohol-associated astrocyte networks, while TGF-β signaling and inflammatory response genes were disrupted by CIE treatment in microglia gene networks. Genes related to innate immune signaling, specifically interferon pathways, were consistently up-regulated across CIE-exposed astrocytes, microglia, and total homogenate PFC tissue. This study illuminates the cell-specific effects of chronic alcohol exposure and provides novel molecular targets for studying alcohol dependence.
The emergence of state-level approval of cannabis for both medical and recreational use is likely to increase the already prevalent co-use of alcohol and cannabis (Yurasek et al., 2017) and raise many important health and social concerns (National Academies of Sciences, 2017). Cannabis research has lagged behind that of alcohol research, but important studies are emerging on the interactions between alcohol and cannabinoids. In this Virtual Issue, Cannabis and Alcohol: From Basic Science to Public Policy, we present 9 leading-edge research publications spanning preclinical and epidemiological studies, as well as a critical review of the potential therapeutic use of cannabidiol (CBD) in the treatment of alcohol use disorder (AUD) (Turna et al., 2019), which recently appeared in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. The Virtual Issue addresses the potential risks and benefits of alcohol and cannabis co-use, which may depend on the particular subgroup of individuals, and whether these drugs are used simultaneously (i.e., drug effects overlap) (Pakula et al., 2009) or concurrently (i.e., drug effects do not overlap in time) (Subbaraman et al., 2019). Simultaneous drug use may be perceived as a means to complement or enhance the effects of each substance (Patrick et al., 2018), despite some individuals reporting negative effects (Lee et al., 2017). The positive perception of complementary drug effects is concerning given the greater health risks associated with simultaneous use (Volkow et al., 2014; Yurasek et al., 2017). Another pattern of use has also developed that substitutes cannabis for alcohol use, particularly in individuals who are making efforts to reduce alcohol intake (Subbaraman, 2016). As summarized in the sections below, this Virtual Issue provides a current assessment of cannabis–alcohol interactions and shows patterns of drug use and risk profiles that may impact the prevalence of co-use and dependence.
Withdrawal from chronic alcohol drinking can cause depression, leading to an inability to function in daily life and an increased risk for relapse to harmful drinking. Understanding the causes of alcohol withdrawal-related depression may lead to new therapeutic targets for treatment. Epigenetic factors have recently emerged as important contributors to both depression and alcohol use disorder (AUD). Specifically, acetylation of the N-terminal tails of histone proteins that package DNA into nucleosomes is altered in stress-induced models of depression and during alcohol withdrawal. The goal of this study was to examine depression-like behavior during alcohol withdrawal and associated changes in histone acetylation and expression of histone deacetylase 2 (HDAC2) in the hippocampus, a brain region critical for mood regulation and depression. Male Sprague-Dawley rats were treated with the Lieber-DeCarli ethanol liquid diet for 15 days and then underwent withdrawal. Rats were treated with the HDAC inhibitor, suberoylanilide hydroxamic acid (SAHA), during withdrawal and were tested for depression-like behavior. In a separate group of rats, the hippocampus was analyzed for mRNA and protein expression of HDAC2 and levels of histone H3 lysine 9 acetylation (H3K9ac) during chronic ethanol exposure and withdrawal. Rats undergoing ethanol withdrawal exhibited depression-like behavior and had increased HDAC2 and decreased H3K9ac levels in specific structures of the hippocampus. Treatment with SAHA during withdrawal ameliorated depression-like behavior and normalized changes in hippocampal HDAC2 and H3K9ac levels. These results demonstrate that ethanol withdrawal causes an altered epigenetic state in the hippocampus. Treatment with an HDAC inhibitor can correct this state and alleviate depression-like symptoms developed during withdrawal. Targeting histone acetylation may be a novel strategy to reduce ethanol withdrawal-induced depression.
The current article highlights key issues in defining, studying, and treating addiction, a concept related to but distinct from substance use disorders. The discussion is based upon a roundtable discussion at the 2017 annual meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism where Warren K. Bickel and John C. Crabbe were charged with answering a range of questions posed by Kenneth J. Sher. All the presenters highlighted a number of central concerns for those interested in assessing and treating addiction as well as those seeking to conduct basic preclinical research that is amenable to meaningful translation to the human condition. In addition, the discussion illustrated both the power and limitations of using any single theory to explain multiple phenomena subsumed under the rubric of addiction. Among the major issues examined were the important differences between traditional diagnostic approaches and current concepts of addiction, the difficulty of modeling key aspects of human addiction in nonhuman animals, key aspects of addiction that have, to date, received little empirical attention, and the importance of thinking of recovery as a phenomenon that possibly involves processes distinct from those undergirding the development and maintenance of addiction.
The activation of a neuronal ensemble in the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) during alcohol withdrawal has been hypothesized to induce high levels of alcohol drinking in dependent rats. In the present study we describe that the CeA neuronal ensemble that is activated by withdrawal from chronic alcohol exposure contains ~80% corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) neurons and that the optogenetic inactivation of these CeA CRF+ neurons prevents recruitment of the neuronal ensemble, decreases the escalation of alcohol drinking, and decreases the intensity of somatic signs of withdrawal. Optogenetic dissection of the downstream neuronal pathways demonstrates that the reversal of addiction-likebehaviors is observed after the inhibition of CeA CRF projections to the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) and that inhibition of the CRFCeA-BNST pathway is mediated by inhibition of the CRF-CRF1 system and inhibition of BNST cell firing. These results suggest that the CRFCeA-BNST pathway could be targeted for the treatment of excessive drinking in alcohol use disorder.
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a complex psychiatric disorder with strong genetic and environmental risk factors. We studied the molecular perturbations underlying risky drinking behavior by measuring transcriptome changes across the neurocircuitry of addiction in a genetic mouse model of binge drinking. Sixteen generations of selective breeding for high blood alcohol levels after a binge drinking session produced global changes in brain gene expression in alcohol-naïve High Drinking in the Dark (HDID-1) mice. Using gene expression profiles to generate circuit-level hypotheses, we developed a systems approach that integrated regulation of gene coexpression networks across multiple brain regions, neuron-specific transcriptional signatures, and knowledgebase analytics. Whole-cell, voltage-clamp recordings from nucleus accumbens shell neurons projecting to the ventral tegmental area showed differential ethanol-induced plasticity in HDID-1 and control mice and provided support for one of the hypotheses. There were similarities in gene networks between HDID-1 mouse brains and postmortem brains of human alcoholics, suggesting that some gene expression patterns associated with high alcohol consumption are conserved across species. This study demonstrated the value of gene networks for data integration across biological modalities and species to study mechanisms of disease.
A growing number of studies implicate alterations in glutamatergic signaling within the reward circuitry of the brain during alcohol abuse and dependence. A key integrator of glutamatergic signaling in the reward circuit is the nucleus accumbens, more specifically, the dopamine D1 receptor-expressing medium spiny neurons (D1-MSNs) within this region, which have been implicated in the formation of dependence to many drugs of abuse including alcohol. D1-MSNs receive glutamatergicinput from several brain regions; however, it is not currently known how individual inputs onto D1-MSNs are altered by alcohol experience. Here, we investigate input-specific adaptations in glutamatergic transmission in response to varying levels of alcohol experience. Virally mediated expression of Channelrhodopsin in ventral hippocampal (vHipp) glutamate neurons of male mice allowed for selective activation of vHipp to D1-MSN synapses. Therefore, we were able to compare synaptic adaptations in response to low and high alcohol experience in vitro and in vivo Alcohol experience enhanced glutamatergic activity and abolished LTD at vHipp to D1-MSN synapses. Following chronic alcohol experience, GluA2-lacking AMPARs, which are Ca permeable, were inserted into vHipp to D1-MSN synapses. These findings support the reversal of alcohol-induced insertion of Ca-permeable AMPARs and the enhancement of glutamatergic activity at vHipp to D1-MSNs as potential targets for intervention during early exposure to alcohol. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Given the roles of the nucleus accumbens (NAc) in integrating cortical and allocortical information and in reward learning, it is vital to understand how inputs to this region are altered by drugs of abuse such as alcohol. The strength of excitatory inputs from the ventral hippocampus (vHipp) to the NAc has been positively associated with reward-related behaviors, but it is unclear whether or how ethanol affects these inputs. Here we show that vHipp-NAc synapses indeed are altered by ethanolexposure, with vHipp glutamatergic input to the NAc being enhanced following chronic ethanol experience. This work provides insight into ethanol-induced alterations of vHipp-NAc synapses and suggests that, similarly to drugs such as cocaine, the strengthening of these synapses promotes reward behavior.