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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2008 Aug;32(8):1479-92. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2008.00715.x. Epub 2008 Jun 28.

Role of major NMDA or AMPA receptor subunits in MK-801 potentiation of ethanol intoxication.

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Section on Behavioral Science and Genetics, Laboratory for Integrative Neuroscience, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 5625 Fishers Lane Room 2N09, Rockville, MD 20852-9411, USA.



The glutamate system plays a major role in mediating EtOH's effects on brain and behavior, and is implicated in the pathophysiology of alcohol-related disorders. N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) antagonists such as MK-801 (dizocilpine) interact with EtOH at the behavioral level, but the molecular basis of this interaction is unclear.


We first characterized the effects of MK-801 treatment on responses to the ataxic (accelerating rotarod), hypothermic and sedative/hypnotic effects of acute EtOH administration in C57BL/6J and 129/SvImJ inbred mice. Effects of another NMDAR antagonist, phencyclidine, on EtOH-induced sedation/hypnosis were also assessed. Gene knockout of the NMDAR subunit NR2A or l-alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methylisoxazole-4-propionate GluR1 or pharmacological antagonism of the NMDAR subunit NR2B (via Ro 25-6981) was employed to examine whether inactivating any one of these glutamate signaling molecules modified MK-801's effect on EtOH-related behaviors.


MK-801 markedly potentiated the ataxic effects of 1.75 g/kg EtOH and the sedative/hypnotic effects of 3.0 g/kg EtOH, but not the hypothermic effects of 3.0 g/kg EtOH, in C57BL/6J and 129/SvImJ mice. Phencyclidine potentiated EtOH-induced sedation/hypnosis in both inbred strains. Neither NR2A nor GluR1 KO significantly altered basal EtOH-induced ataxia, hypothermia, or sedation/hypnosis. Ro 25-6981 modestly increased EtOH-induced sedation/hypnosis. The ability of MK-801 to potentiate EtOH-induced ataxia and sedation/hypnosis was unaffected by GluR1 KO or NR2B antagonism. NR2A KO partially reduced MK-801 + EtOH-induced sedation/hypnosis, but not ataxia or hypothermia.


Data confirm a robust and response-specific potentiating effect of MK-801 on sensitivity to EtOH's intoxicating effects. Inactivation of three major components of glutamate signaling had no or only partial impact on the ability of MK-801 to potentiate behavioral sensitivity to EtOH. Further work to elucidate the mechanisms underlying NMDAR x EtOH interactions could ultimately provide novel insight into the role of NMDARs in alcoholism and its treatment.

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