Importance of genetic background for risk of relapse shown in altered prefrontal cortex gene expression during abstinence following chronic alcohol intoxication

J. G. Hashimoto, M. R. Forquer, M. A. Tanchuck, D. A. Finn, K. M. Wiren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Alcoholism is a relapsing disorder associated with excessive consumption after periods of abstinence. Neuroadaptations in brain structure, plasticity and gene expression occur with chronic intoxication but are poorly characterized. Here we report identification of pathways altered during abstinence in prefrontal cortex, a brain region associated with cognitive dysfunction and damage in alcoholics. To determine the influence of genetic differences, an animal model was employed with widely divergent responses to alcohol withdrawal, the Withdrawal Seizure-Resistant (WSR) and Withdrawal Seizure-Prone (WSP) lines. Mice were chronically exposed to highly intoxicating concentrations of ethanol and withdrawn, then left abstinent for 21 days. Transcriptional profiling by microarray analyses identified a total of 562 genes as significantly altered during abstinence. Hierarchical cluster analysis revealed that the transcriptional response correlated with genotype/withdrawal phenotype rather than sex. Gene Ontology category overrepresentation analysis identified thyroid hormone metabolism, glutathione metabolism, axon guidance and DNA damage response as targeted classes of genes in low response WSR mice, with acetylation and histone deacetylase complex as highly dimorphic between WSR and WSP mice. Confirmation studies in WSR mice revealed both increased neurotoxicity by histopathologic examination and elevated triidothyronine (T3) levels. Most importantly, relapse drinking was reduced by inhibition of thyroid hormone synthesis in dependent WSR mice compared to controls. These findings provide in vivo physiological and behavioral validation of the pathways identified. Combined, these results indicate a fundamentally distinct neuroadaptive response during abstinence in mice genetically selected for divergent withdrawal severity. Identification of pathways altered in abstinence may aid development of novel therapeutics for targeted treatment of relapse in abstinent alcoholics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)57-75
Number of pages19
StatePublished - Jan 26 2011


  • Abstinence
  • Alcoholism
  • Chronic ethanol
  • Gene expression
  • Microarray
  • Relapse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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