Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research

β-Endorphin neuronal transplantation into the hypothalamus alters anxiety-like behaviors in prenatal alcohol-exposed rats and alcohol-non-preferring and alcohol-preferring rats.

PMID 25623413


Alcohol exposure has adverse effects on stress physiology and behavioral reactivity. This is suggested to be due, in part, to the effect of alcohol on β-endorphin (β-EP)-producing neurons in the hypothalamus. In response to stress, β-EP normally provides negative feedback to the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and interacts with other neurotransmitter systems in the amygdala to regulate behavior. We examined whether β-EP neuronal function in the hypothalamus reduces the corticosterone response to acute stress, attenuates anxiety-like behaviors, and modulates alcohol drinking in rats. To determine whether β-EP neuronal transplants modulate the stress response, anxiety behavior, and alcohol drinking, we implanted differentiated β-EP neurons into the paraventricular nucleus (PVN) of the hypothalamus of normal, prenatal alcohol-exposed, and alcohol-preferring (P) and alcohol-non-preferring (NP) rats. We then assessed corticosterone levels in response to acute restraint stress and other markers of stress response in the brain and anxiety-like behaviors in the elevated plus maze and open-field assays. We showed that β-EP neuronal transplants into the PVN reduced the peripheral corticosterone response to acute stress and attenuated anxiety-like behaviors. Similar transplants completely reduced the hypercorticosterone response and elevated anxiety behaviors in prenatal alcohol-exposed adult rats. Moreover, we showed that β-EP reduced anxiety behavior in P rats with minimal effects on alcohol drinking during and following restraint stress. These data further establish a role of β-EP neurons in the hypothalamus for regulating physiological stress response and anxiety behavior and resemble a potential novel therapy for treating stress-related psychiatric disorders in prenatal alcohol-exposed children and those genetically predisposed to increased alcohol consumption.