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Alcohol. 2017 Feb;58:25-32. doi: 10.1016/j.alcohol.2016.05.005. Epub 2016 Jun 11.

Dopamine synthesis in alcohol drinking-prone and -resistant mouse strains.

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Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC, USA.
College of Engineering, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA.
Charleston Alcohol Research Center, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, USA; Department of Neurosciences, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, USA.
Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC, USA. Electronic address:


Alcoholism is a prevalent and debilitating neuropsychiatric disease, and much effort has been aimed at elucidating the neurobiological mechanisms underlying maladaptive alcohol drinking in an effort to design rational treatment strategies. In preclinical literature, the use of inbred mouse lines has allowed for the examination of ethanol effects across vulnerable and resistant phenotypes. C57BL/6J mice consistently show higher rates of ethanol drinking compared to most mouse strains. Conversely, DBA/2J mice display low rates of ethanol consumption. Given that the reinforcing and rewarding effects of ethanol are thought to be in part mediated by its actions on dopamine neurotransmission, we hypothesized that alcohol-preferring C57BL/6J and alcohol-avoiding DBA/2J mice would display basal differences in dopamine system function. By administering an L-aromatic acid decarboxylase inhibitor and measuring L-Dopa accumulation via high-performance liquid chromatography as a measure of tyrosine hydroxylase activity, we found no difference in dopamine synthesis between mouse strains in the midbrain, dorsal striatum, or ventral striatum. However, we did find that quinpirole-induced inhibition of dopamine synthesis was greater in the ventral striatum of C57BL/6J mice, suggesting increased presynaptic D2-type dopamine autoreceptor sensitivity. To determine whether dopamine synthesis or autoreceptor sensitivity was altered by a history of ethanol, we exposed C57BL/6J mice to one or two weekly cycles of chronic intermittent ethanol (CIE) exposure and withdrawal. We found that there was an attenuation of baseline dopamine synthesis in the ventral striatum after two cycles of CIE. Finally, we examined tissue content of dopamine and dopamine metabolites across recombinant inbred mice bred from a C57BL/6J × DBA/2J cross (BXD). We found that low dopaminergic activity, as indicated by high dopamine/metabolite ratios, was positively correlated with drinking. Together, these findings show differential autoreceptor effects on dopamine synthesis between C57BL/6J and DBA/2J mice, and suggest that decreased dopaminergic activity is associated with excessive drinking.


Autoreceptor; BXD; C57BL/6J; DBA/2J; Tyrosine hydroxylase; Vapor chamber

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