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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2009 Nov;33(11):1956-65. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2009.01033.x. Epub 2009 Aug 10.

Increased perioculomotor urocortin 1 immunoreactivity in genetically selected alcohol preferring rats.

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Department of Behavioral Neuroscience, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, Oregon, USA.



Urocortin 1 (Ucn 1) is an endogenous peptide related to the corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF). Ucn 1 is mainly expressed in the perioculomotor area (pIII), and its involvement in alcohol self-administration is well confirmed in mice. In other species, the relationship between the perioculomotor Ucn 1-containing population of neurons (pIIIu) and alcohol consumption needs further investigation. The pIII also has a significant subpopulation of dopaminergic neurons. Because of dopamine's (DA) role in addiction, it is important to evaluate whether this subpopulation of neurons contributes to addiction-related phenotypes. Furthermore, the effects of gender on the relationship between Ucn 1 and tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) in pIII and alcohol preference in rats have not been previously assessed.


To address these issues, we compared 2 Sardinian alcohol-preferring sublines of rats, a population maintained at the Scripps Research Institute (Scr:sP) and a population maintained at University of Camerino-Marchigian Sardinian preferring rats (msP), to corresponding nonselectively bred Wistar rats of both sexes. Ucn 1- and TH-positive cells were detected on coronal midbrain sections from 6- to 8-week-old alcohol-naïve animals using brightfield and fluorescent immunohistochemistry. Ucn 1- and TH-positive cells in pIII were counted in the perioculomotor area, averaged across 2 to 3 sets, and binned into 3 bregma levels.


Results demonstrated increased average counts of Ucn 1-positive cells in the middle bregma level in preferring male rats compared to Wistar controls and no difference in TH-positive cell counts in pIII. In addition, fluorescent double labeling revealed no colocalization of Ucn 1-positive and TH-positive neurons. Ucn 1 but not TH distribution was influenced by gender with female animals expressing more Ucn 1-positive cells than male animals in the peak bregma level.


These findings extend previous reports of increased Ucn 1-positive cell distribution in preferring lines of animals. They indicate that Ucn1 contributes to increased alcohol consumption across different species and that this contribution could be gender specific. The results also suggest that Ucn1 regulates positive reinforcing rather than aversive properties of alcohol and that these effects could be mediated by CRF(2) receptors, independent of direct actions of DA.

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