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Neuropsychopharmacology. 2006 May;31(5):988-96.

Chronic ethanol exposure and protracted abstinence alter NMDA receptors in central amygdala.

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Department of Neuropharmacology, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA.


We recently reported that chronic ethanol treatment (CET) and early withdrawal (2-8 h) altered glutamatergic transmission at both pre- and postsynaptic sites in central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA). Acute ethanol (44 mM) inhibited the NMDA receptor (NMDAR)-mediated EPSCs (NMDA-EPSCs) more in CeA neurons from CET rats than from naïve rats and also decreased paired-pulse facilitation (PPF) of NMDA-EPSCs only in CET rats. To determine whether these CET effects persisted after prolonged withdrawal, we recorded intracellularly in rat CeA slices and measured mRNA and protein expression of CeA NMDAR subunits from CET rats and those withdrawn from ethanol for 1 or 2 weeks. At 1 week withdrawal, acute ethanol decreased evoked NMDA-EPSC amplitudes and NMDA currents induced by exogenous NMDA ( approximately 20%) equally to that in naïve rats, indicating that CET effects on postsynaptic mechanisms reversed 1 week after CET cessation. However, acute ethanol still decreased PPF of NMDA-EPSCs, indicating that the acute ethanol-induced increase in glutamate release in CeA seen in CET rats was still present at this time. CET also significantly increased mRNA levels of NR1 and NR2B NMDAR subunits compared to control rats. At 1 week withdrawal, mRNA levels for NR1 and NR2B subunits were significantly decreased. These changes reversed at 2 weeks withdrawal. In Western blots, a significant increase in protein for all three subunits occurred in CeA from CET rats, but not after 1 and 2 weeks of withdrawal. These data indicate that CET induces reversible neuroadaptations in synaptic function, gene expression, and protein composition of NMDAR at CeA synapses.

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