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Physiol Genomics. 2005 Dec 14;24(1):45-58. Epub 2005 Sep 27.

Chronic alcohol exposure alters transcription broadly in a key integrative brain nucleus for homeostasis: the nucleus tractus solitarius.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Anatomy and Cell Biology, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107, USA.


Chronic exposure to alcohol modifies physiological processes in the brain, and the severe symptoms resulting from sudden removal of alcohol from the diet indicate that these modifications are functionally important. We investigated the gene expression patterns in response to chronic alcohol exposure (21-28 wk) in the rat nucleus tractus solitarius (NTS), a brain nucleus with a key integrative role in homeostasis and cardiorespiratory function. Using methods and an experimental design optimized for detecting transcriptional changes less than twofold, we found 575 differentially expressed genes. We tested these genes for significant associations with physiological functions and signaling pathways using Gene Ontology terms and the Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG) database, respectively. Chronic alcohol exposure resulted in significant NTS gene regulation related to the general processes of synaptic transmission, intracellular signaling, and cation transport as well as specific neuronal functions including plasticity and seizure behavior that could be related to alcohol withdrawal symptoms. The differentially expressed genes were also significantly enriched for enzymes of lipid metabolism, glucose metabolism, oxidative phosphorylation, MAP kinase signaling, and calcium signaling pathways from KEGG. Intriguingly, many of the genes we found to be differentially expressed in the NTS are known to be involved in alcohol-induced oxidative stress and/or cell death. The study provides evidence of very extensive alterations of physiological gene expression in the NTS in the adapted state to chronic alcohol exposure.

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