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Neuroscience. 2009 Jan 23;158(2):441-55. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2008.10.011. Epub 2008 Oct 17.

The distribution of gamma-hydroxybutyrate-induced Fos expression in rat brain: comparison with baclofen.

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  • 1School of Psychology, Griffith Taylor Building (A19), University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia.


gamma-Hydroxybutyrate (GHB) is a euphoric, prosocial and sleep inducing drug that binds with high affinity to its own GHB receptor site and also more weakly to GABA(B) receptors. GHB is efficacious in the treatment of narcolepsy and alcoholism, but heavy use can lead to dependence and withdrawal. Many effects of GHB (sedation, hypothermia, catalepsy) are mimicked by GABA(B) receptor agonists (e.g. baclofen). However other effects (euphoric and prosocial effects and a therapeutic effect in narcolepsy) are not. The present study used Fos immunohistochemistry to assess the neural activation produced in rat brain by medium to high doses of GHB (250, 500 and 1000 mg/kg) and a high dose of baclofen (10 mg/kg) that produced similar sedation to 500 mg/kg GHB. Results showed many common regions of activation with these two drugs including the supraoptic, paraventricular, median preoptic and ventral premammillary nuclei of the hypothalamus, the central nucleus of the amygdala, Edinger-Westphal nucleus, lateral parabrachial nucleus, locus coeruleus, and nucleus of the solitary tract. GHB (500 mg/kg), but not baclofen (10 mg/kg), induced significant Fos expression in the median raphe nucleus and lateral habenula, while a higher dose of GHB (1000 mg/kg) induced additional Fos expression in the islands of Calleja, dentate gyrus (polymorphic layer) and arcuate nucleus, and in various regions implicated in rapid and non-rapid eye movement sleep (laterodorsal tegmental nucleus, tuberomammillary nucleus and the ventrolateral and anterodorsal preoptic nuclei). Surprisingly, Fos immunoreactivity was not observed with either GHB or baclofen in reward-relevant regions such as the nucleus accumbens, striatum and ventral tegmental area. Overall these results indicate a distinctive signature of brain activation with GHB that may be only partly due to GABA(B) receptor effects. This confirms a unique neuropharmacological profile for GHB and indicates key neural substrates that may underlie its characteristic influence on sleep, body temperature, sociability and endocrine function.

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