Background: Dopaminergic (DA) activity in the extended amygdala (EA) has been known to play a pivotal role in mediating drug and alcohol addiction. Alterations of DA activity within the EA after chronic exposure to alcohol or substances of abuse are considered a major mechanism for the development of alcoholism and addiction. To date, it is not clear how different patterns of chronic alcohol drinking affect DA receptor levels. Therefore, the current studies investigated the effects of chronic ethanol consumption, with or without deprivations, on D1 and D2 receptor densities within the EA.
Methods: Inbred alcohol-preferring (iP) rats were divided into 3 groups with the following treatments: (1) water for 14 weeks; (2) continuous alcohol (C-Alc) for 14 weeks [24-hour concurrent access to 15 and 30% (v/v) ethanol]; or (3) repeatedly deprived of alcohol (RD-Alc) (24-hour concurrent access to 15 and 30% ethanol for 6 weeks, followed by 2 cycles of 2 weeks of deprivation of and 2 weeks of reexposure to ethanol access). At the end of 14 weeks, the rats were killed for autoradiographic labeling of D1 and D2 receptors.
Results: Compared with the water control group, both the C-Alc and the RD-Alc groups displayed increases in D1 receptor binding density in the anterior region of the Acb core, whereas the RD-Alc group displayed additional increases in D1 receptor binding density in anterior regions of the lateral and intercalated nuclei of the amygdala. Additionally, both C-Alc and RD-Alc rats displayed increases in D2 receptor binding density in anterior regions of the Acb shell and core, whereas RD-Alc rats displayed additional increases in D2 receptor binding density in the dorsal striatum.
Conclusion: The results of this study indicate that 14-week extended alcohol drinking with continuous chronic or repeated deprivations increase binding sites of D1 and D2 receptors in specific regions of the EA with greater sensitivity in the anterior regions. The repeated deprivation has greater effect on altering D1 and D2 receptor binding sites in the Acb, dorsal striatum, and subamygdala regions. The current result indicates that the two drinking paradigms may have common as well as differential mechanisms on alteration of dopamine receptor–binding sites in specific regions of the EA.