Adolescence is characterized behaviorally by increased impulsivity and risk-taking that declines in parallel with maturation of the prefrontal cortex and executive function. In the brain, the receptor for advanced glycation end products (RAGE) is critically involved in neurodevelopment and neuropathology. In humans, the risk of alcoholism is greatly increased in those who begin drinking between 13 and 15 years of age, and adolescents binge drink more than any other age group. We have previously found that alcoholism is associated with increased expression of neuroimmune genes.

This manuscript tested the hypothesis that adolescent binge drinking upregulates RAGE and Toll-like receptor (TLR) 4 as well as their endogenous agonist, high-mobility group box 1 (HMGB1).

Immunohistochemistry, Western blot, and mRNA analyses found that RAGE expression was increased in the human post-mortem alcoholic orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). Further, an earlier age of drinking onset correlated with increased expression of RAGE, TLR4, and HMGB1.

To determine if alcohol contributed to these changes, we used an adolescent binge ethanol model in rats (5.0 g/kg, i.g., 2-day on/2-day off from postnatal day [P] 25 to P55) and assessed neuroimmune gene expression.

We found an age-associated decline of RAGE expression from late adolescence (P56) to young adulthood (P80). Adolescent intermittent ethanol exposure did not alter RAGE expression at P56, but increased RAGE in the young adult PFC (P80). Adolescent intermittent ethanol exposure also increased TLR4 and HMGB1 expression at P56 that persisted into young adulthood (P80).

Assessment of young adult frontal cortex mRNA (RT-PCR) found increased expression of proinflammatory cytokines, oxidases, and neuroimmune agonists at P80, 25 days after ethanol treatment.

Together, these human and animal data support the hypothesis that an early age of drinking onset upregulates RAGE/TLR4-HMGB1 and other neuroimmune genes that persist into young adulthood and could contribute to risk of alcoholism or other brain diseases associated with neuroinflammation.

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