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Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2008 May;89(4):497-503. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2008.01.006. Epub 2008 Mar 10.

Effects of moderate chronic ethanol consumption on hippocampal nicotinic receptors and associative learning.

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  • 1Institut de Neurociències & Department of Bioquímica i Biologia Molecular, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, 08193 Cerdanyola del Vallès, Barcelona, Spain.


A number of studies have reported that ethanol exposure induces changes in different brain systems. The hippocampus is a brain region that is very vulnerable to ethanol exposition, which functionally results in impairment of learning and memory processes reported in heavy drinkers. Hippocampal nicotinic receptors are involved in learning and memory. In this study, we determined the effects of ethanol on the main hippocampal subtypes of neural nicotinic receptors (alpha7 and alpha4beta2) in rats non-selected for alcohol consumption, in order to check for possible changes on these receptors that could be linked with alterations in learning acquisition. Binding assays were carried out with [3H]methyllycaconitine ([3H]MLA) to study the alpha7 and [3H]nicotine to study alpha4beta2 receptors. Auto-shaping, continuous ratio and extinction procedures were used as behavioral tests. The results show that moderate chronic ethanol consumption for 10 weeks produces: (a) a decrease of both hippocampal nicotinic receptor subtypes without alterations in affinity; (b) no differences in behavioral performance between control rats and ethanol-drinking rats in auto-shaping and continuous ratio; (c) an improvement of performance of extinction paradigm. These results indicate that chronic ethanol consumption, at moderate levels, induces changes in hippocampal nicotinic receptors but does not impair acquisition and performance of new associative learning and even improves some kind of paradigms. These results may have implications in the biochemical basis of interactions between alcohol and nicotine and the effects of these drugs on behavior.

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