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Acoustic Startle at Baseline and During Acute Alcohol Withdrawal in Replicate Mouse Lines Selectively Bred for High or Low Al cohol Preference


Reprint requests: Julia A. Chester, Ph.D., Purdue University, Psychological Sciences, 703 Third Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907-2081; Fax: 765-496-1264; E-mail:


Background:  Previous data in both rat and mouse genetic models suggest that there is a genetic relationship between acute alcohol withdrawal responses and innate alcohol drinking behavior. The purpose of the present study was to examine whether acute alcohol withdrawal responses, as measured by acoustic startle and prepulse inhibition (PPI) of acoustic startle, may be genetically related to innate differences in alcohol preference in 2 mouse lines selectively bred for high (HAP1 and HAP2) or low (LAP1 and LAP2) alcohol preference. Line differences in startle responses at baseline, prior to alcohol or saline treatment, were also measured.

Methods:  Alcohol-naive, male and female HAP1 (n = 35) and LAP1 (= 32) and HAP2 (= 43) and LAP2 (= 40) mice were tested under baseline conditions and during withdrawal from a single injection of 4.0 g/kg alcohol or equal volume of saline at 4, 8, and 12 hours post-injection.

Results:  On most trial types, baseline startle responses and PPI were greater in both HAP lines than in both LAP lines, and startle responses were greater in males than in females. During acute alcohol withdrawal, both male LAP lines, and LAP1 females, showed reduced startle responses at the 4-hour time point during acute alcohol withdrawal. In contrast, both HAP1 males and females showed a trend toward enhanced startle at 4 hours in withdrawal. No clear differences in PPI during withdrawal were evident.

Conclusions:  These findings indicate good evidence for a genetic relationship between greater baseline acoustic startle responses and PPI and high alcohol preference. Modest support for a genetic correlation between low alcohol preference and reduced startle responses at 4 hours in withdrawal was found in male mice. The suppression in acoustic startle during acute alcohol withdrawal in male LAP lines but not in male HAP lines suggests that a genetic propensity toward low alcohol preference may be related to greater sensitivity to alcohol as measured by acoustic startle responses during acute alcohol withdrawal.