Alcohol (Fayetteville, N.Y.)

Disturbances in behavior and cortical enkephalin gene expression during the anticipation of ethanol in rats characterized as high drinkers.

PMID 22703995


The process of ethanol anticipation is a particularly important phenomenon that can determine subsequent drug-taking behavior. Recent studies suggest that systems within the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), during anticipation, may contribute to the goal-directed seeking of ethanol. The current investigation examined the possibility that the opioid peptide enkephalin (ENK), known to mediate some of the reinforcing properties of ethanol, may function in the mPFC during the anticipation of ethanol access. Using a limited access (3 h/d) paradigm for 10 days with 20% ethanol, Sprague-Dawley rats were first identified either as low drinkers (LD, <1.0 g/kg/3 h) or as high drinkers (HD, >2.0 g/kg/3 h) that exhibited a long-term phenotype of high ethanol consumption and a significant ethanol deprivation effect. During the anticipation period immediately preceding daily ethanol access, the HD rats compared to LD or Control animals with ad libitum ethanol access exhibited increased anticipatory behaviors, including greater exploratory behavior in a novel open field as revealed by significantly more time spent in the rearing position (+53-65%, p < 0.05) and increased number of rears made (+33-44%, p < 0.05) and greater novelty-seeking behavior in a hole-board apparatus revealed by an increase in total (+50-52%, p < 0.05) and novel nose pokes (+45-48%, p < 0.05). In the HD rats, analysis of the mPFC using real-time quantitative PCR showed significantly greater mRNA levels of ENK (p < 0.05) and the mu-opioid receptor (MOR) (p < 0.05), but not delta-opioid receptor (DOR), and this increase in ENK expression was found, using in situ hybridization, to occur specifically in the prelimbic (PrL) subregion of the mPFC. When injected into the PrL during the anticipation period, a MOR agonist but not DOR agonist significantly increased consumption of 20% ethanol (p < 0.05). These findings support the role of ENK, acting through MOR within the PrL to promote the anticipation and excessive consumption of ethanol.