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Effects of Ethanol on Extracellular Levels of Adenosine in the Basal Forebrain: An In Vivo Microdialysis Study in Freely Behaving Rats


Reprint requests: Mahesh M. Thakkar, PhD, Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital, Research, Room A023, 800 Hospital Drive, Columbia, MO 65201; Fax: 573-884-4249; E-mail:


Background:  Adenosine is implicated to play a pivotal role in mediating many neuronal responses to ethanol. While in vitro studies performed in cell culture have demonstrated that acute ethanol exposure increases extracellular adenosine levels, this effect has not been demonstrated, in vivo, in the brain. We performed an in vivo microdialysis study to examine the effects of local ethanol perfusion on extracellular levels of adenosine in the basal forebrain (BF).

Methods:  Under sterile conditions and using a standard surgical protocol, adult male Sprague–Dawley rats were implanted with unilateral microdialysis guide cannula targeted toward the BF. Following postoperative recovery, the microdialysis probe was inserted. After allowing at least 12 to 16 hours for probe insertion recovery, the experiment was begun. Artificial cerebrospinal fluid (aCSF) was perfused (0.7 μl/min) for 80 minutes, and 4 × 20-minute pre-ethanol baseline samples were collected. Subsequently, 30, 100, and 300 mM doses of ethanol were perfused. Each ethanol dose was perfused for 80 minutes, and 4 × 20-minute samples were collected. Finally, aCSF was perfused, and 4 × 20 postethanol samples were collected. Adenosine in the microdialysate was separated and measured with HPLC coupled with an UV detector. On completion, the animals were euthanized, brain removed and processed for histology.

Results:  Local ethanol perfusion in the BF produced a significant increase in extracellular adenosine with the highest dose of 300 mM ethanol producing a 4-fold increase. Cresyl violet (Nissl) staining did not indicate any toxic damage in the area surrounding the probe tip. Choline acetyltransferase immunohistochemistry revealed that all microdialysis probe sites were localized in the BF.

Conclusion:  Our study is the first to demonstrate that ethanol acts directly in the brain to increase extracellular adenosine.