Physiological dependence and associated withdrawal episodes are thought to constitute a motivational force that sustains ethanol (alcohol) use/abuse and may contribute to relapse in alcoholics. Although no animal model duplicates alcoholism, models for specific factors, like the withdrawal syndrome, are useful for identifying potential genetic and neural determinants of liability in humans. We generated congenic mice that confirm a quantitative trait locus (QTL) on chromosome 4 with a large effect on predisposition to alcohol withdrawal. Using c-Fos expression as a high-resolution marker of neuronal activation, congenic mice demonstrated significantly less neuronal activity associated with ethanol withdrawal than background strain mice in the substantia nigra pars reticulata (SNr), subthalamic nucleus (STN), rostromedial lateral globus pallidus, and ventral pallidum. Notably, neuronal activation in subregions of the basal ganglia associated with limbic function was more intense than in subregions associated with sensorimotor function. Bilateral lesions of caudolateral SNr attenuated withdrawal severity after acute and repeated ethanol exposures, whereas rostrolateral SNr and STN lesions did not reduce ethanol withdrawal severity. Caudolateral SNr lesions did not affect pentylenetetrazol-enhanced convulsions. Our results suggest that this QTL impacts ethanol withdrawal via basal ganglia circuitry associated with limbic function and that the caudolateral SNr plays a critical role. These are the first analyses to elucidate circuitry by which a confirmed addiction-relevant QTL influences behavior. This mouse QTL is syntenic with human chromosome 9p. Given the growing body of evidence that a gene(s) on chromosome 9p influences alcoholism, our results can facilitate human research on alcohol dependence and withdrawal.
- Substantia nigra
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