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Keywords:

  • Alcohol;
  • genetics;
  • invertebrate;
  • sensitivity;
  • tolerance;
  • vertebrate

Identifying genes that influence behavioral responses to alcohol is critical for understanding the molecular basis of alcoholism and ultimately developing therapeutic interventions for the disease. Using an integrated approach that combined the power of the Drosophila, Caenorhabditis elegans and mouse model systems with bioinformatics analyses, we established a novel, conserved role for chloride intracellular channels (CLICs) in alcohol-related behavior. CLIC proteins might have several biochemical functions including intracellular chloride channel activity, modulation of transforming growth factor (TGF)-β signaling, and regulation of ryanodine receptors and A-kinase anchoring proteins. We initially identified vertebrate Clic4 as a candidate ethanol-responsive gene via bioinformatic analysis of data from published microarray studies of mouse and human ethanol-related genes. We confirmed that Clic4 expression was increased by ethanol treatment in mouse prefrontal cortex and also uncovered a correlation between basal expression of Clic4 in prefrontal cortex and the locomotor activating and sedating properties of ethanol across the BXD mouse genetic reference panel. Furthermore, we found that disruption of the sole Clic Drosophila orthologue significantly blunted sensitivity to alcohol in flies, that mutations in two C. elegans Clic orthologues, exc-4 and exl-1, altered behavioral responses to acute ethanol in worms and that viral-mediated overexpression of Clic4 in mouse brain decreased the sedating properties of ethanol. Together, our studies demonstrate key roles for Clic genes in behavioral responses to acute alcohol in Drosophila, C. elegans and mice.