Alcohol activates the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis through its actions in both the periphery and the central nervous system (CNS). The studies presented here were designed to test the CNS-specific noradrenergic mechanisms by which alcohol stimulates HPA activity in the male rat.
We used an experimental paradigm in which a small, nontoxic amount (5 μl) of alcohol was slowly microinfused intracerebroventricularly (icv). Alcohol was administered icv to animals with lesions of the locus coeruleus (LC) or in animals pretreated with α- or β-adrenergic receptor antagonists. Hormonal HPA activation was determined by measuring secretion of the pituitary stress hormone adrenocorticotropin (ACTH). Neuronal activation was determined by quantification of the expression of the transcription factor c-fos (Fos).
As expected, icv alcohol stimulated ACTH secretion from the pituitary and Fos expression in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus (PVN). Bilateral electrolytic LC lesions blocked the ability of icv alcohol to stimulate ACTH secretion. Pretreatment with icv propranolol increased basal ACTH secretion levels, but icv alcohol did not increase this effect. Propranolol also blunted icv alcohol-induced PVN Fos expression. A low dose of phenoxybenzamine, an α-adrenergic receptor antagonist, did not affect the ability of icv alcohol to stimulate ACTH release. However, a higher dose of the drug was able to block the ACTH response to icv alcohol. Despite this, phenoxybenzamine did not inhibit alcohol-induced Fos expression. Icv pretreatment with corynanthine, a selective α-1 adrenergic receptor antagonist, modestly raised basal ACTH levels and blocked the icv alcohol-induced secretion of this hormone.