Background: Human studies have suggested an important relationship between ethanol sensitivity and risk of alcoholism. These studies have led some to hypothesize that a low initial sensitivity to ethanol’s depressant effects and/or an elevated response to ethanol’s stimulant effects may represent important risk factors associated with the development of abusive drinking behavior. Unfortunately, elucidating neurobiologic mechanisms that may underlie these relationships between ethanol sensitivity and ethanol drinking have been hampered by difficulties in modeling some of these interactions in animals. In this study, we re-examined some of these relationships in an outbred strain of rats using continuous access two-bottle choice drinking and a limited-access operant procedure that engenders pharmacologically relevant levels of ethanol intake and permits the discrete assessment of appetitive and consummatory measures of ethanol drinking behavior.
Methods: Twenty-three male Long-Evans rats were habituated to a locomotor activity box and then tested for their response to a stimulant (0.5 g/kg) and depressant (1.5 g/kg) ethanol dose. Rats were then trained to complete a lever pressing requirement to gain access to 10% ethanol for 20-minute sessions conducted 5 d/wk for 5 weeks. Appetitive behavior was assessed after 2.5 and 4.5 weeks using 20-minute extinction trials in which ethanol was not presented and lever responses were recorded. Home-cage ethanol preference was also assessed prior to and immediately following the 5-week self-administration regimen using a continuous access, two-bottle choice procedure.
Results: A significant increase in home-cage ethanol preference was observed following the self-administration procedure, however, neither measure of ethanol preference correlated with average daily ethanol intake during the operant self-administration sessions or with initial sensitivity to ethanol’s stimulant or depressant effects. Notably, a significant negative correlation was observed between sensitivity to ethanol’s locomotor depressant effect and daily intake during the operant self-administration sessions. No significant relationships were noted between sensitivity to ethanol’s locomotor effects and extinction responding.
Conclusions: The results of these studies suggest that the well-established relationship between a low level of response to ethanol and increased ethanol consumption reported in human studies can be observed in an outbred rodent strain using a limited-access operant self-administration procedure, but not with home-cage ethanol drinking.