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Neuroscience. 1996 Mar;71(2):411-5.

Mesolimbic dopaminergic reduction outlasts ethanol withdrawal syndrome: evidence of protracted abstinence.

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  • 1Institute of Biological Chemistry, University of Sassari, Italy.


Rats chronically administered with ethanol every six hours for six consecutive days show, upon suspension of treatment, a marked somatic withdrawal syndrome characterized by classical neurological signs. The emergence of the behavioral syndrome coincides with a profound decline of dopaminergic mesolimbic neuronal activity which corresponds to a reduction of dopamine outflow in the nucleus accumbens [Diana et al. (1993) Proc. natn. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 90, 7966-7969]. However, while the behavioral manifestation of the ethanol withdrawal syndrome recedes in about 48 h, electrophysiological indices of mesolimbic dopaminergic function are still reduced 72 h after ethanol discontinuation, thus outlasting the physical signs of ethanol withdrawal syndrome. Dopaminergic neuronal activity is reintegrated by anti-craving drugs such as ethanol itself and gamma-hydroxybutyric acid. It is postulated that the reduced spontaneous activity of mesolimbic dopaminergic neurons may form the neural basis of the dysphoric state which accompanies abrupt interruption of chronic ethanol administration. Pharmacological manipulations of dopaminergic activity targeted at restoring "normal" dopaminergic function after ethanol withdrawal may lead to way to the experimental basis of new therapeutic strategies of alcoholism.

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