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Alcohol. 2014 May;48(3):287-93. doi: 10.1016/j.alcohol.2013.11.006. Epub 2014 Jan 18.

Alcohol dependence and free-choice drinking in mice.

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Charleston Alcohol Research Center, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Medical University of South Carolina, 67 President St., RM 471, MSC 861, Charleston, SC 29425, USA. Electronic address:


Alcohol dependence continues to be an important health concern and animal models are critical to furthering our understanding of this complex disease. A hallmark feature of alcoholism is a significant increase in alcohol drinking over time. While several different animal models of excessive alcohol (ethanol) drinking exist for mice and rats, a growing number of laboratories are using a model that combines chronic ethanol exposure procedures with voluntary ethanol drinking with mice as experimental subjects. Primarily, these studies use a chronic intermittent ethanol (CIE) exposure pattern to render mice dependent and a 2-h limited access procedure to evaluate drinking behavior. Compared to non-dependent mice that also drink ethanol, the ethanol-dependent mice demonstrate significant increases in voluntary ethanol drinking. The increased drinking significantly elevates blood and brain ethanol concentrations compared to the non-dependent control mice. Studies report that the increased drinking by dependent mice is driven by neuroadaptations in glutamatergic and corticotropin-releasing factor signaling in different brain regions known to be involved in alcohol-related behaviors. The dysregulation of these systems parallels findings in human alcoholics and treatments that demonstrate efficacy in alcoholics can also reduce drinking in this model. Moreover, preclinical findings have informed the development of human clinical trials, further highlighting the translational potential of the model. As a result of these features, the CIE exposure and free-choice drinking model is becoming more widely used and promises to provide more insight into mechanisms of excessive drinking that may be important for developing treatments for human alcoholics. The salient features and possible future considerations for CIE exposure and free-choice drinking in mice are discussed.


CRF; Chronic intermittent exposure; Dependence; Ethanol; Glutamate; Limited access; Mouse

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