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Keywords:

  • Hypothalamic–Pituitary–Adrenal Axis;
  • Stress;
  • Alcoholism;
  • Dependence;
  • Hormone

Background

Prolonged ethanol (EtOH) intake may perturb function of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis in a manner that promotes dependence and influences EtOH withdrawal severity. Prior in vivo and in vitro studies suggest that corticosteroids, in particular, may be elevated during EtOH intoxication and withdrawal, suggesting that intracellular glucocorticoid receptors (GRs) may promote the development of EtOH dependence.

Methods

Adult male Sprague-Dawley rats were subjected to a 4-day binge-like EtOH administration regimen (3 to 5 g/kg/i.g. every 8 hours designed to produce peak blood EtOH levels (BELs) of <300 mg/dl). Subgroups of animals received s.c. injection of the GR antagonist mifepristone (20 or 40 mg/kg in peanut oil at 0800 hours on each of the 4 days prior to withdrawal). BELs were assessed at 0900 and 1500 hours on Days 2 (D2) and 4 (D4) of the regimen. BEL, blood corticosterone levels (BCLs), and EtOH withdrawal–associated behavioral abnormalities were assessed 10 to 12 hours after the final EtOH administration.

Results

Daily mean EtOH doses for D1 to D4 of the regimen were 14.4, 9.9, 7.1, and 8.6 g/kg, respectively. The EtOH gavage regimen produced mean BELs of 255 mg/dl at 0900 on D2 and 156.2 mg/dl at 0900 on D4 of the regimen. Withdrawal from the EtOH exposure regimen, beginning 10 hours after the last EtOH administration, produced significant elevations in BCL and behavioral abnormalities including tremors, stereotypy, and “wet dog shakes.” Mifepristone administration did not alter food intake or weight during the 4-day regimen, nor were there drug-dependent differences in BEL or BCL on withdrawal day. Although mifepristone produced no significant changes in behavior of EtOH-naïve animals, pretreatment with mifepristone (40 mg/kg) significantly reduced the severity of EtOH withdrawal.

Conclusions

Findings suggest that activation of GRs promotes neuroadaptation to binge-like EtOH exposure, contributing to the development of EtOH dependence. Further, GRs may represent therapeutic targets to be exploited in reducing the severity of EtOH withdrawal.