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Neuropharmacology. 2004 Mar;46(4):570-9.

Chronic intermittent ethanol (CIE) administration in rats decreases levels of neurosteroids in hippocampus, accompanied by altered behavioral responses to neurosteroids and memory function.

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  • 1Department of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology, UCLA School of Medicine, University of California, Room CHS 23-120, 650 Young Drive South, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1735, USA.


The administration of ethanol on a chronic intermittent regimen (CIE) involving multiple withdrawal episodes is a model for ethanol dependence. After CIE, rats exhibited reduced seizure threshold, increased anxiety, tolerance to GABAergic sedative-hypnotic drugs, and changes in GABA(A) receptor function and subunit composition in hippocampus. Previous studies have shown that acute and chronic ethanol may induce changes in the levels of the neurosteroid 3alpha-hydroxysteroid-5alpha-pregnan-20-one (3alpha, 5alpha-THP) in the brain. Therefore, the current study analyses the correlation between chronic intermittent ethanol effects on the level of 3alpha, 5alpha-THP in hippocampus of CIE rats and the behavioral changes in sensitivity to neurosteroids. After CIE, the levels for 3alpha, 5alpha-THP were significantly reduced in hippocampus of rats. The mRNA levels for the enzymes 5alpha-reductase and 3alpha-HSD in hippocampus were also reduced. In vivo, (in contrast to a tolerance to the hypnotic effect of steroids), CIE rats showed increased sensitivity to the anticonvulsant and to the anxiolytic effect of the steroid alphaxalone. Perhaps, this is a response to lowered levels of endogenous neuroactive steroids. CIE rats also showed impairment of hippocampus-dependent memory function. These results suggest that changes in neurosteroids level and in vivo sensitivity to these compounds are involved in the development of ethanol dependence in the CIE model.

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