Reversal of alcohol dependence and tolerance by a single administration of flumazenil

K. J. Buck, H. Heim, R. A. Harris

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49 Scopus citations


Chronic exposure to ethanol is associated with the development of tolerance to the acute effects of ethanol and a withdrawal syndrome characterized by anxiety and seizure susceptibility. In the present study we examined the ability of flumazenil (Ro15-1788), a benzodiazepine receptor antagonist, to reverse neuronal and behavioral manifestations of ethanol tolerance and dependence. A single injection of flumazenil (10 mg/kg, 14 hr before withdrawal) to mice administered a liquid diet containing ethanol for 10 days, reduced seizure severity during withdrawal from ethanol. Acute tolerance to ethanol-induced hypothermia was not sensitive to flumazenil treatment, but tolerance and diazepam-induced cross-tolerance to the ataxic effects of ethanol were reversed by a single injection of flumazenil given 2 to 26 hr before evaluation of tolerance. At a biochemical level, the ability of benzodiazepine inverse agonists (e.g., Ro15-4513) to reduce the activity of γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptor-operated chloride channels may represent a neuronal manifestation of ethanol dependence (Buck and Harris, 1990). Flumazenil treatment of ethanol-dependent mice 14 hr before isolation of brain membrane vesicles partially reversed the augmentation of Ro15-4513 inhibition of muscimol-stimulated 36Cl- uptake in vitro. These results demonstrate that brief occupation of benzodiazepine receptors by an antagonist may reset the cellular mechanisms responsible for the development of ethanol tolerance and dependence, and support the hypothesis that increased sensitivity to benzodiazepine inverse agonists is involved in the development of ethanol dependence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)984-989
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1991
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology


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