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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Oct 30;109(44):18156-61. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1116523109. Epub 2012 Oct 15.

Recruitment of medial prefrontal cortex neurons during alcohol withdrawal predicts cognitive impairment and excessive alcohol drinking.

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  • 1Committee on the Neurobiology of Addictive Disorders, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA. ogeorge@scripps.edu


Chronic intermittent access to alcohol leads to the escalation of alcohol intake, similar to binge drinking in humans. Converging lines of evidence suggest that impairment of medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) cognitive function and overactivation of the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) are key factors that lead to excessive drinking in dependence. However, the role of the mPFC and CeA in the escalation of alcohol intake in rats with a history of binge drinking without dependence is currently unknown. To address this issue, we examined FBJ murine osteosarcoma viral oncogene homolog (Fos) expression in the mPFC, CeA, hippocampus, and nucleus accumbens and evaluated working memory and anxiety-like behavior in rats given continuous (24 h/d for 7 d/wk) or intermittent (3 d/wk) access to alcohol (20% vol/vol) using a two-bottle choice paradigm. The results showed that abstinence from alcohol in rats with a history of escalation of alcohol intake specifically recruited GABA and corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) neurons in the mPFC and produced working memory impairments associated with excessive alcohol drinking during acute (24-72 h) but not protracted (16 -68 d) abstinence. Moreover, abstinence from alcohol was associated with a functional disconnection of the mPFC and CeA but not mPFC and nucleus accumbens. These results show that recruitment of a subset of GABA and CRF neurons in the mPFC during withdrawal and disconnection of the PFC-CeA pathway may be critical for impaired executive control over motivated behavior, suggesting that dysregulation of mPFC interneurons may be an early index of neuroadaptation in alcohol dependence.

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