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Alcohol. 2011 Jun;45(4):355-64. doi: 10.1016/j.alcohol.2010.08.017. Epub 2010 Sep 29.

Chronic social isolation and chronic variable stress during early development induce later elevated ethanol intake in adult C57BL/6J mice.

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Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston Alcohol Research Center, Charleston, SC, USA.


Experience with stress situations during early development can have long-lasting effects on stress- and anxiety-related behaviors. Importantly, this can also favor drug self-administration. These studies examined the effects of chronic social isolation and/or variable stress experiences during early development on subsequent voluntary ethanol intake in adult male and female C57BL/6J mice. The experiments were conducted to evaluate the effect of chronic isolation between weaning and adulthood (Experiment 1), chronic isolation during adulthood (Experiment 2), and chronic variable stress (CVS) alone or in combination with chronic social isolation between weaning and adulthood (Experiment 3) on subsequent voluntary ethanol intake. Mice were born in our facility and were separated into two housing conditions: isolate housed (one mouse/cage) or group housed (four mice/cage) according to sex. Separate groups were isolated for 40 days starting either at time of weaning postnatal day 21 (PD 21) (early isolation, Experiments 1 and 3) or at adulthood (PD 60: late isolation, Experiment 2). The effects of housing condition on subsequent ethanol intake were assessed starting at around PD 65 in Experiments 1 and 3 or PD 105 days in Experiment 2. In Experiment 3, starting at PD 32, isolate-housed and group-housed mice were either subjected to CVS or left undisturbed. CVS groups experienced random presentations of mild stressors for 14 days, including exposure to an unfamiliar open field, restraint, physical shaking, and forced swim, among others. All mice were tested for ethanol intake for 14 days using a two-bottle choice (ethanol 15% vol/vol vs. water) for a 2-h limited access procedure. Early social isolation resulted in greater ethanol intake compared with the corresponding group-housed mice (Experiment 1). In contrast, social isolation during adulthood (late isolation) did not increase subsequent ethanol intake compared with the corresponding group-housed mice (Experiment 2). For mice that did not experience CVS, early social isolation resulted in greater ethanol intake compared with group-housed mice (Experiment 3). CVS subsequently resulted in a significant increase in ethanol intake in group-housed mice, but CVS failed to further increase ethanol intake in mice that experienced chronic social isolation early in life (Experiment 3). Overall, female mice consumed more ethanol than males, whether isolated (early or late) or group housed. These results indicate that early but not late social isolation can subsequently influence ethanol consumption in C57BL/6J mice. Thus, the developmental timing of chronic social isolation appears to be an important factor in defining later effects on ethanol self-administration behavior. In addition, experience with CVS early in life results in elevated ethanol intake later in adulthood. Taken together, these results emphasize the important role of early stress experiences that modulate later voluntary ethanol intake during adulthood.

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