Alcoholism is a heterogeneous disease, with subjects possibly differing both in the best measure that predicts their excess consumption and in their most effective pharmacotherapy. Two different measures, high novelty-induced activity and high-fat-induced triglycerides (TGs), are known to identify subgroups of animals prone to consuming higher amounts of ethanol (EtOH). The question investigated here is whether these subgroups are, in fact, similar in their neurochemical phenotype that may contribute to their overconsumption
EtOH-naïve, Sprague–Dawley rats were subgrouped based on the 2 predictor measures of activity or TG levels, and then quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction and digoxigenin-labeled in situ hybridization were used to measure their expression of hypothalamic peptides that affect EtOH intake. In additional subgroups subsequently trained to drink 9% EtOH, the opioid antagonist and alcoholism medication, naltrexone, was tested at a low dose (0.02 mg/kg, s.c.) to determine the rats' sensitivity to its effects.
The 2 measures, while both effective in predicting amount of EtOH intake, were found to identify distinctive subgroups. Rats with high compared to low activity exhibited significantly greater expression of galanin and enkephalin in the paraventricular nucleus (PVN) and of orexin in the perifornical lateral hypothalamus (PFLH), but no difference in melanin-concentrating hormone in PFLH or neuropeptide Y in arcuate nucleus. This contrasts with rats having high TG, which exhibited greater expression only of PVN galanin, along with reduced PFLH orexin. The high-activity rats with elevated enkephalin, but not high-TG rats, were also unusually sensitive to naltrexone, which significantly reduced their alcohol intake.
In addition to revealing differences in endogenous peptides and drug responsiveness in predicted high EtOH drinkers, this study demonstrates that these disturbances differ markedly between the 2 at-risk subgroups. This indicates that simple tests may be effective in identifying subjects most responsive to a specific pharmacotherapy.
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