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Neuropsychopharmacology. 2011 May;36(6):1207-18. doi: 10.1038/npp.2011.5. Epub 2011 Feb 23.

Activation of σ-receptors induces binge-like drinking in Sardinian alcohol-preferring rats.

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Committee on the Neurobiology of Addictive Disorders, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA.


Sigma (σ) receptors have been implicated in the behavioral and motivational effects of alcohol and psychostimulants. Sigma receptor antagonists reduce the reinforcing effects of alcohol and excessive alcohol intake in both genetic (alcohol-preferring rats) and environmental (chronic alcohol-induced) models of alcoholism. The present study tested the hypothesis that pharmacological activation of σ-receptors facilitates ethanol reinforcement and induces excessive, binge-like ethanol intake. The effects of repeated subcutaneous treatment with the selective σ-receptor agonist 1,3-di-(2-tolyl)guanidine (DTG; 15 mg/kg, twice a day for 7 days) on operant ethanol (10%) self-administration were studied in Sardinian alcohol-preferring (sP) rats. To confirm that the effect of DTG was mediated by σ-receptors, the effects of pretreatment with the selective σ-receptor antagonist BD-1063 (7 mg/kg, subcutaneously) were determined. To assess the specificity of action, the effects of DTG on the self-administration of equally reinforcing solutions of saccharin or sucrose were also determined. Finally, gene expression of opioid receptors in brain areas implicated in ethanol reinforcement was analyzed in ethanol-naive sP rats treated acutely or repeatedly with DTG, because of the well-established role of the opioid system in alcohol reinforcement and addiction. Repeatedly administered DTG progressively and dramatically increased ethanol self-administration in sP rats and increased blood alcohol levels, which reached mean values close to 100 mg% in 1 h drinking sessions. Repeated DTG treatment also increased the rats' motivation to work for alcohol under a progressive-ratio schedule of reinforcement. BD-1063 prevented the effects of DTG, confirming that σ-receptors mediate the effects of DTG. Repeated DTG treatment also increased the self-administration of the non-drug reinforcers saccharin and sucrose. Naive sP rats repeatedly treated with DTG showed increased mRNA expression of μ- and δ-opioid receptors in the ventral tegmental area. These results suggest a key facilitatory role for σ-receptors in the reinforcing effects of alcohol and identify a potential mechanism that contributes to binge-like and excessive drinking.

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