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Endocrinology. 2004 Oct;145(10):4470-9. Epub 2004 Jun 17.

Site of action of acute alcohol administration in stimulating the rat hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis: comparison between the effect of systemic and intracerebroventricular injection of this drug on pituitary and hypothalamic responses.

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The Salk Institute, 10010 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, California 92037, USA.


The peripheral injection of alcohol stimulates the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, but the ready penetration of this drug in most bodily compartments has made it difficult to identify its specific sites of action. Here we determined whether alcohol can directly influence the corticotropes. We first determined whether alcohol acted within the brain to stimulate neurons in the paraventricular nucleus (PVN) of the hypothalamus, which synthesizes corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) and vasopressin (VP). To test this hypothesis, we injected alcohol intracerebroventricularly (icv; 5 microl of 200-proof; 86 micromol) and compared these results with those obtained after its ip administration (3.0 g/kg). Although not causing neuronal damage and not leading to detectable levels of the drug in the general circulation, icv alcohol significantly up-regulated PVN CRF heteronuclear RNA levels and increased plasma ACTH levels, a change comparable to the one observed in the ip model. To determine whether alcohol stimulated the corticotropes independently of CRF and/or VP, we injected the drug ip or icv and measured changes in anterior pituitary proopiomelanocortin (POMC) transcripts and ACTH release in the presence or absence of endogenous CRF and/or VP. Intracerebroventricular and ip alcohol significantly increased POMC primary transcript levels, measured by ribonuclease protection assay, over a time-course that corresponded to ACTH release. Both the POMC and the ACTH responses were completely abolished by removal of CRF and VP. Collectively, these results indicate that alcohol-induced activation of the corticotropes does not represent a direct influence of the drug on the pituitary but requires CRF and VP.

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