Background: The neuropeptide leptin links adipose stores with hypothalamic centers and serves as an endocrine signal involved in the regulation of appetite (and possibly in the endorphinergic modulation of the drug reward system). Increased plasma leptin has been observed at the onset of alcohol withdrawal in humans, and ethanol consumption after withdrawal was increased by injection of leptin in mice. We addressed the role of leptin in alcohol-related behaviors by studying ethanol consumption in two strains of spontaneously mutant mice that lack leptin (ob/ob) or the leptin receptor (db/db).
Methods: Two strains of mutant leptin-deficient (ob/ob) or leptin-resistant (db/db) mice were tested in a two-bottle-choice paradigm and were compared with wild-type (C57BL/6 inbred strain) mice. The effects of leptin injection on voluntary ethanol intake have been investigated in ob/ob and C57BL/6 mice.
Results: Males and females of both mutant strains showed a significantly lower preference for alcohol in a two-bottle-choice paradigm compared with wild-type mice. Male ob/ob mice demonstrated slightly higher avoidance of bitter taste, and females of the both mutant strains showed a reduced preference for saccharin solutions. Administration of leptin (1 mg/kg intraperitoneally, daily for 8 days) altered body weight but failed to increase the preference for ethanol in ob/ob mice; i.e., we could not correct the effects of leptin deficiency on alcohol consumption by the injection of leptin. Also, there were no differences between the effects of leptin (1 mg/kg intraperitoneally, daily for 8 days) and saline injections on alcohol consumption in C57BL/6 mice.
Conclusions: These data show that blockade of the leptin pathway markedly decreases the preference for alcohol intake, but this decrease may be the result of compensatory or developmental changes in other systems rather than a more direct effect of leptin on alcohol consumption.