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Eur J Pharmacol. 1998 Oct 9;358(3):189-96.

Voluntary ethanol intake in the rat and the associated accumbal dopamine overflow are blocked by ventral tegmental mecamylamine.

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Department of Pharmacology, Göteborg University, Sweden.


The mesocorticolimbic dopamine system is believed to be involved in mediating the positive reinforcing effects of drugs of abuse, including ethanol. The nicotinic acetylcholine receptor antagonist mecamylamine perfused via reversed microdialysis in the ventral tegmental area antagonizes the increase of accumbal extracellular dopamine levels after systemic ethanol, and, after systemic injection, lowers ethanol intake in the rat. In the present study the effect of ventral tegmental mecamylamine on ethanol intake and preference, as well as on extracellular accumbal dopamine levels, was investigated in the same animal. To this end, in vivo microdialysis using a double probe approach (one in the nucleus accumbens and one in the ventral tegmental area) was combined with an ethanol preference model invoking a free choice between a bottle of water and a bottle of ethanol 6% (v/v) solution. Wistar rats drinking more than 60% of their total daily fluid intake from the ethanol solution (ethanol high-preferring animals) were selected during a screening period and used for the experiments. The animals received vehicle or mecamylamine (100 microM) in the ventral tegmental area and were then presented with a choice between water and ethanol in a limited access paradigm to which they previously had been adapted. On the next day the rats that received vehicle day 1 now received mecamylamine, and vice versa. When treated with vehicle, ethanol intake and preference were unaltered, as compared to baseline behavior, and accumbal dopamine levels increased significantly to approximately 130% of the pre-drug baseline level. When receiving mecamylamine, ethanol intake and preference were reduced markedly and dopamine levels were unaltered, as compared to pre-drug baseline levels. The present results further indicate that nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in the ventral tegmental area are involved in the positive reinforcing effects of ethanol. Thus, mecamylamine or other antagonists specifically aimed at ventral tegmental nicotinic acetylcholine receptors could represent a new pharmacological treatment principle against alcohol abuse, the efficacy of which should be explored in high-scale alcohol consumers or alcoholics.

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