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Brain Res. 2002 Jan 18;925(1):76-88.

Prolonged alcohol intake leads to irreversible loss of vasopressin and oxytocin neurons in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus.

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Department of Anatomy, Porto Medical School, Alameda HernĂ¢ni Monteiro, 4200-319 Porto, Portugal.


Previous data revealed that numerous neurons in the supraoptic nucleus degenerate after prolonged ethanol exposure, and that the surviving neurons increase their activity in order to prevent dramatic changes in water metabolism. Conversely, excess alcohol does not induce cell death in the suprachiasmatic nucleus, but leads to depression of neuropeptide synthesis that is further aggravated by withdrawal. The aim of the present study is to characterize the effects of prolonged ethanol exposure on the magnocellular neurons of the paraventricular nucleus (PVN) in order to establish whether or not magnocellular neurons display a common pattern of reaction to excess alcohol, irrespective of the hypothalamic cell group they belong. Using conventional histological techniques, immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization, the structural organization and the synthesis and expression of vasopressin (VP) and oxytocin (OXT) in the magnocellular component of the PVN were studied under normal conditions and following chronic ethanol treatment (6 or 10 months) and withdrawal (4 months after 6 months of alcohol intake). After ethanol treatment, there was a marked decrease in the number of VP- and OXT-immunoreactive magnocellular neurons that was attributable to cell death. The surviving neurons were hypertrophied and the VP and OXT mRNA levels in the PVN unchanged. Withdrawal did not alter the number of VP- and OXT-producing neurons or the gene expression of these peptides. These results substantiate the view that after prolonged ethanol exposure numerous neurons of the hypothalamic magnocellular system degenerate, but the mRNA levels of VP and OXT are not decreased due to compensatory changes undergone by the surviving neurons.

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