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J Neuroinflammation. 2012 May 24;9:97. doi: 10.1186/1742-2094-9-97.

Temporal changes in innate immune signals in a rat model of alcohol withdrawal in emotional and cardiorespiratory homeostatic nuclei.

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  • 1Daniel Baugh Institute for Functional Genomics and Computational Biology, Department of Pathology, Anatomy and Cell Biology, Thomas Jefferson University, 1020 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19107, USA.



Chronic alcohol use changes the brain's inflammatory state. However, there is little work examining the progression of the cytokine response during alcohol withdrawal, a period of profound autonomic and emotional upset. This study examines the inflammatory response in the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) and dorsal vagal complex (DVC), brain regions neuroanatomically associated with affective and cardiorespiratory regulation in an in vivo rat model of withdrawal following a single chronic exposure.


For qRT-PCR studies, we measured the expression of TNF-α, NOS-2, Ccl2 (MCP-1), MHC II invariant chain CD74, and the TNF receptor Tnfrsf1a in CeA and DVC samples from adult male rats exposed to a liquid alcohol diet for thirty-five days and in similarly treated animals at four hours and forty-eight hours following alcohol withdrawal. ANOVA was used to identify statistically significant treatment effects. Immunohistochemistry (IHC) and confocal microscopy were performed in a second set of animals during chronic alcohol exposure and subsequent 48-hour withdrawal.


Following a chronic alcohol exposure, withdrawal resulted in a statistically significant increase in the expression of mRNAs specific for innate immune markers Ccl2, TNF-α, NOS-2, Tnfrsf1a, and CD74. This response was present in both the CeA and DVC and most prominent at 48 hours. Confocal IHC of samples taken 48 hours into withdrawal demonstrate the presence of TNF-α staining surrounding cells expressing the neural marker NeuN and endothelial cells colabeled with ICAM-1 (CD54) and RECA-1, markers associated with an inflammatory response. Again, findings were consistent in both brain regions.


This study demonstrates the rapid induction of Ccl2, TNF-α, NOS-2, Tnfrsf1a and CD74 expression during alcohol withdrawal in both the CeA and DVC. IHC dual labeling showed an increase in TNF-α surrounding neurons and ICAM-1 on vascular endothelial cells 48 hours into withdrawal, confirming the inflammatory response at the protein level. These findings suggest that an abrupt cessation of alcohol intake leads to an acute central nervous system (CNS) inflammatory response in these regions that regulate autonomic and emotional state.

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