Beer self-administration provokes lateralized nucleus accumbens dopamine release in male heavy drinkers.

PMID 25163422


Although striatal dopamine (DA) is important in alcohol abuse, the nature of DA release during actual alcohol drinking is unclear, since drinking includes self-administration of both conditioned flavor stimuli (CS) of the alcoholic beverage and subsequent intoxication, the unconditioned stimulus (US). Here, we used a novel self-administration analog to distinguish nucleus accumbens (NAcc) DA responses specific to the CS and US. Right-handed male heavy drinkers (n = 26) received three positron emission tomography (PET) scans with the D2/D3 radioligand [(11)C]raclopride (RAC) and performed a pseudo self-administration task that separately administered a flavor CS of either a habitually consumed beer or the appetitive control Gatorade®, concomitant with the US of ethanol intoxication (0.06 g/dL intravenous (IV) administration) or IV saline. Scan conditions were Gatorade flavor + saline (Gat&Sal), Gatorade flavor + ethanol (Gat&Eth), and beer flavor + ethanol (Beer&Eth). Ethanol (US) reduced RAC binding (inferring DA release) in the left (L) NAcc [Gat&Sal > Gat&Eth]. Beer flavor (CS) increased DA in the right (R) NAcc [Gat&Eth > Beer&Eth]. The combination of beer flavor and ethanol (CS + US), [Gat&Sal > Beer&Eth], induced DA release in bilateral NAcc. Self-reported intoxication during scanning correlated with L NAcc DA release. Relative to saline, infusion of ethanol increased alcoholic drink wanting. Our findings suggest lateralized DA function in the NAcc, with L NAcc DA release most reflecting intoxication, R NAcc DA release most reflecting the flavor CS, and the conjoint CS + US producing a bilateral NAcc response.