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Keywords:

  • Alcohol;
  • corticosterone;
  • fear-potentiated startle;
  • genetic correlation;
  • mifepristone;
  • PTSD

Abstract

Blunted cortisol responses to stress or trauma have been linked with genetic (familial) risk for both alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Mouse lines selectively bred for high (HAP) or low (LAP) alcohol preference may be a relevant model of genetic risk for co-morbid alcoholism and PTSD in humans. HAP mice show greater fear-potentiated startle (FPS), a model used to study PTSD, than LAP mice. The relation between corticosterone (CORT) and FPS behavior was explored in four experiments. Naïve male and female HAP2 and LAP2 mice received fear-conditioning or control treatments, and CORT levels were measured before and immediately after fear-conditioning or FPS testing. In two other experiments, HAP2 mice received CORT (1.0, 5.0 or 10.0 mg/kg) or a glucocorticoid receptor antagonist (mifepristone; 25.0 and 50.0 mg/kg) 30 minutes before fear conditioning. HAP2 mice exposed to fear conditioning and to control foot shock exposures showed lower CORT after the fear-conditioning and FPS testing sessions than LAP2 mice. A trend toward higher FPS was seen in HAP2 mice pretreated with 10.0 mg/kg CORT, and CORT levels were the lowest in this group, suggesting negative feedback inhibition of CORT release. Mifepristone did not alter FPS. Overall, these results are consistent with data in humans and rodents indicating that lower cortisol/CORT levels after stress are associated with PTSD/PTSD-like behavior. These findings in HAP2 and LAP2 mice suggest that a blunted CORT response to stress may be a biological marker for greater susceptibility to develop PTSD in individuals with increased genetic risk for alcoholism.