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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2010 Jun;34(6):1066-72. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2010.01182.x. Epub 2010 Apr 9.

Beta-endorphin mediates behavioral despair and the effect of ethanol on the tail suspension test in mice.

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Neuroscience Program, Department of Psychology, Furman University, Greenville, South Carolina 29609, USA.



The opioid peptide beta-endorphin (beta-E) is synthesized and released in response to stressful stimuli as well as acute alcohol administration. The release of beta-E following exposure to an inescapable aversive situation may mediate behaviors that contribute to allostasis of the stress response. The present study examines the effects of beta-E on immobility in assays involving inescapable stress, both under basal conditions and after acute administration of EtOH.


Female and male transgenic mice with varying capacities to translate beta-E were subjected to either the forced swim (FST, Experiment 1) or the tail suspension test (TST, Experiment 2). In Experiment 3, mice were divided into three groups based on hormonal status (male, female-estrous, and female-nonestrous) and injected with either 1 g/kg EtOH or equivolume saline 14 minutes prior to behavioral assessment on the TST.


Experiments 1 and 2 demonstrated a direct relationship between beta-E levels and immobility. There were also sex differences in behavior in these tests, with males displaying more immobility than females. A main effect of genotype in Experiment 3 replicated findings in Experiments 1 and 2. There was also an effect of EtOH (increasing immobility) and a significant interaction reflecting a particularly robust effect of the drug in mice with low beta-E. In addition, there were interactions between beta-E, EtOH effects, and hormonal status.


These findings support the contention that beta-E moderates behavioral responses to stressful stimuli and suggest a role for this peptide in coping behavior. Furthermore, the effects of EtOH on the response to stress may be mediated by beta-E. Sex differences in this influence may contribute to sex differences in disease susceptibility and expression.

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