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Neuroscience. 2012 Apr 5;207:167-81. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2012.01.027. Epub 2012 Jan 21.

Disruptions in serotonergic regulation of cortical glutamate release in primate insular cortex in response to chronic ethanol and nursery rearing.

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Department of Neurobiology, Duke University Medical Center, Bryan Research Building, Durham, NC 27710, USA.


Early-life stress has been shown to increase susceptibility to anxiety and substance abuse. Disrupted activity within the anterior insular cortex (AIC) has been shown to play a role in both of these disorders. Altered serotonergic processing is implicated in controlling the activity levels of the associated cognitive networks. We therefore investigated changes in both serotonin receptor expression and glutamatergic synaptic activity in the AIC of alcohol-drinking rhesus monkeys. We studied tissues from male rhesus monkeys raised under two conditions: Male rhesus monkeys (1) "mother reared" (MR) by adult females (n=9) or (2) "Nursery reared" (NR), that is, separated from their mothers and reared as a separate group under surrogate/peer-reared conditions (n=9). The NR condition represents a long-standing and well-validated nonhuman primate model of early life stress. All monkeys were trained to self-administer ethanol (4% w/v) or an isocaloric maltose-dextrin control solution. Subsets from each rearing condition were then given daily access to ethanol, water, or maltose-dextrin for 12 months. Tissues were collected at necropsy and were further analyzed. Using real time RT-PCR we found that ethanol-naive, NR monkeys had lower AIC levels of 5-HT(1A) and 5-HT(2A) receptor mRNA compared with ethanol-naive, MR animals. Although NR monkeys consumed more ethanol over the 12-month period compared with MR animals, both MR and NR animals expressed greater 5-HT(1A) and 5-HT(2A) receptor mRNA levels following chronic alcohol self-administration. The interaction between nursery-rearing conditions and alcohol consumption resulted in a significant enhancement of both 5-HT(1A) and 5-HT(2A) receptor mRNA levels such that lower expression levels observed in nursery-rearing conditions were not found in the alcohol self-administration group. Using voltage clamp recordings in the whole cell configuration we recorded excitatory postsynaptic currents in both ethanol-naive and chronic self-administration groups of NR and MR monkeys. Both groups that self-administered ethanol showed greater glutamatergic activity within the AIC. This AIC hyperactivity in MR alcohol-consuming monkeys was accompanied by an increased sensitivity to regulation by presynaptic 5-HT(1A) receptors that was not apparent in the ethanol-naive, MR group. Our data indicate that chronic alcohol consumption leads to greater AIC activity and may indicate a compensatory upregulation of presynaptic 5-HT(1A) receptors. Our results also indicate that AIC activity may be less effectively regulated by 5-HT in ethanol-naive NR animals than in NR monkeys in response to chronic ethanol self-administration. These data suggest possible mechanisms for increased alcohol seeking and possible addiction potential among young adults who had previously experienced early-life stress that include disruptions in both AIC activity and serotonin system dynamics.

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