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Addict Behav. 2004 Sep;29(7):1325-39.

Imbalance between neuroexcitatory and neuroinhibitory amino acids causes craving for ethanol.

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  • 1UCL-Biologie du Comportement, Place Croix du Sud, 1-bte 10-B 1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium.


Long-term exposure to ethanol leads to an imbalance in different excitatory and inhibitory amino acids. When ethanol consumption is reduced or completely stopped, these imbalances in different amino acids and neurotransmitters are behaviorally expressed in the form of ethanol withdrawal. Glutamate, a major excitatory amino acid, and GABA, a major inhibitory amino acid, are responsible, at least partly, for ethanol withdrawal symptoms. The hypofunction of GABAA receptors and enhanced function of NMDA receptors are suggested to be responsible for the increase in the behavioral susceptibility during ethanol withdrawal. This imbalance between receptors may be exacerbated by repeated withdrawal. Because multiple and repeated periods of chronic ethanol consumption and withdrawal often occur in alcohol abusers, animal studies on the neurochemical changes in different amino acids following chronic ethanol treatment (CET) that is interrupted by repeated ethanol withdrawal episodes may be of clinical relevance for the development of treatment strategies. Brain glutamate increases during the first cycle of ethanol withdrawal, and this increase is much higher during the third cycle of ethanol withdrawal. The elevated glutamate released in the hippocampus during the first cycle of ethanol withdrawal episode was exacerbated in subsequent withdrawal episodes. Acamprosate, a drug used during human alcohol detoxification, is able to completely block the glutamate increase observed during the first as well as the third withdrawal of ethanol. In ethanol-naïve rats, there was no change in the glutamate microdialysate content after an acute ethanol injection. However, when repeated ethanol injections were cued with a vinegar stimulus that had previously been associated with the same ethanol injection, a significant increase in glutamate microdialysate content was assayed. Furthermore, when the cue was omitted, the ethanol injection induced no changes in glutamate microdialysate content in rats that had been previously ethanol conditioned. By comparison, a saline injection had no effect on extracellular glutamate concentration in rats naïve for ethanol as well as in rats daily administered with repeated ethanol injections that were not paired with the cue. It appears probable that these conditioned responses by extracellular glutamate concentrations may participate in the environmental cue-induced conditioned cravings for ethanol that are thought to be related to the high frequency of relapse in detoxified alcoholics.

Copyright 2004 Elsevier Ltd.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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