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Chemosensory responsiveness to ethanol and its individual sensory components in alcohol-preferring, alcohol-nonpreferring and genetically heterogeneous rats


Susan M. Brasser, Department of Psychology, San Diego State University, 6330 Alvarado Ct., Ste. 231, San Diego, CA 92120, USA. E-mail:


Alcohol activates orosensory circuits that project to motivationally relevant limbic forebrain areas that control appetite, feeding and drinking. To date, limited data exists regarding the contribution of chemosensory-derived ethanol reinforcement to ethanol preference and consumption. Measures of taste reactivity to intra-orally infused ethanol have not found differences in initial orofacial responses to alcohol between alcohol-preferring (P) and alcohol-non-preferring (NP) genetically selected rat lines. Yet, in voluntary intake tests, P rats prefer highly concentrated ethanol upon initial exposure, suggesting an early sensory-mediated attraction. Here, we directly compared self-initiated chemosensory responding for alcohol and prototypic sweet, bitter and oral trigeminal stimuli among selectively bred P, NP and non-selected Wistar (WI) outbred lines to determine whether differential sensory responsiveness to ethanol and its putative sensory components are phenotypically associated with genetically influenced alcohol preference. Rats were tested for immediate short-term lick responses to alcohol (3–40%), sucrose (0.01–1 M), quinine (0.01–3 mM) and capsaicin (0.003–1 mM) in a brief-access assay designed to index orosensory-guided behavior. P rats exhibited elevated short-term lick responses to both alcohol and sucrose relative to NP and WI lines across a broad range of concentrations of each stimulus and in the absence of blood alcohol levels that would produce significant post-absorptive effects. There was no consistent relationship between genetically mediated alcohol preference and orosensory avoidance of quinine or capsaicin. These data indicate that enhanced initial chemosensory attraction to ethanol and sweet stimuli are phenotypes associated with genetic alcohol preference and are considered within the framework of downstream activation of oral appetitive reward circuits.