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Physiol Behav. 2005 Mar 31;84(4):537-42.

Effects of ethanol intake and ethanol withdrawal on free-running circadian activity rhythms in rats.

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Department of Psychology, 5742 Little Hall, University of Maine, Orono, ME 04469-5742, USA.


Chronic alcohol intake and alcohol withdrawal are associated with dramatic disruptions of daily (circadian) biological rhythms in both human alcoholics and experimental animals. The extent to which these observations are due to pharmacological effects on the underlying circadian pacemaker is not known, however, since no human studies and very few animal studies have been conducted under free-running conditions. In the present study, free-running circadian activity (wheel-running) rhythms of rats were monitored before, during and after exposure to either 10% or 20% ethanol solution as the only drinking fluid. Across individuals, both lengthening and shortening of free-running period were observed during ethanol intake, and treatment termination led to either a return to baseline or to an exacerbation of the original ethanol effect. These variable effects appeared to be related to both ethanol concentration and to individual differences in baseline period, such that relatively short free-running period during baseline was associated with greater period-lengthening during ethanol exposure. These bidirectional affects of ethanol on free-running period are generally similar to effects seen previously with other psychoactive drugs, including antidepressants. The results of this study indicate that ethanol influences the circadian pacemaker, and that the chronobiological disruptions seen in human alcoholics may be due, in part, to alterations in circadian pacemaker regulation.

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