Effect of Ethanol on Hypothalamic Opioid Peptides, Enkephalin, and Dynorphin: Relationship With Circulating Triglycerides


  • This research was supported by USPHS grant AA-12882 and by funds from the Minnie and Bernard Lane Foundation.

Reprint requests: Dr. Sarah F. Leibowitz, The Rockefeller University, 1230 York Avenue, New York, NY 10021; Fax: 212-327-8447; E-mail: leibow@rockefeller.edu


Background: Recent evidence has demonstrated that ethanol intake can stimulate the expression and production of the feeding-stimulatory peptide, galanin (GAL), in the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVN), and that PVN injection of this peptide, in turn, can increase the consumption of ethanol. To test the hypothesis that other feeding-related systems are involved in ethanol intake, this study examined the effect of ethanol on the hypothalamic opioid peptides, enkephalin (ENK), and dynorphin (DYN).

Method: Adult, male Sprague–Dawley rats were trained to voluntarily drink increasing concentrations of ethanol, up to 9% v/v, on a 12-hour access schedule or were given a single injection of ethanol (10% v/v) versus saline vehicle. The effect of ethanol on GAL, ENK, and DYN mRNA was measured using real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction and radiolabeled in situ hybridization, while radioimmunoassay was used to measure peptide levels. In addition to blood alcohol, circulating levels of triglycerides (TG), leptin, and insulin were also measured.

Results: The data demonstrated that: (1) rats voluntarily drinking 9% v/v ethanol (approximately 2.0 g/kg/d) show a significant increase in GAL, ENK, and DYN mRNA in the PVN compared with water-drinking rats; (2) voluntary consumption of ethanol also increases peptide levels of ENK and DYN in the PVN; (3) acute injection of 10% ethanol (1.0 g/kg of 10% v/v) similarly increases the expression of GAL, ENK, and DYN in the PVN; and (4) ethanol consumption and injection, while having little effect on leptin and insulin, consistently increase circulating levels of TG as well as alcohol, both of which are strongly, positively correlated with peptide expression in the PVN.

Conclusions: These findings, together with published studies, suggest a possible role for hypothalamic opioid peptides in the drinking of ethanol. Based on evidence that dietary fat and lipid injections stimulate the PVN peptides and injection of the opiates and GAL increase ethanol intake, it is proposed that both TG and alcohol in the circulation, which are elevated by the ingestion or injection of ethanol, are involved in stimulating these peptides in the PVN, which in turn promote further consumption of ethanol.