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Neuropsychopharmacology. 2009 Sep;34(10):2218-26. doi: 10.1038/npp.2009.49. Epub 2009 May 13.

Dopamine and serotonin transporter availability during acute alcohol withdrawal: effects of comorbid tobacco smoking.

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Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06516, USA.


Tobacco smoking is highly comorbid with heavy alcohol drinking, yet the interaction of tobacco smoking and alcohol drinking on brain catecholaminergic synaptic markers is unexplored. Here we evaluate the effects of alcohol drinking alone from comorbid alcohol drinking and tobacco smoking on dopamine (DA) and serotonin (5-HT) transporter availability. A total of 14 heavy alcohol drinking smokers (n=6) and nonsmokers (n=8) and 14 age-matched control smokers (n=6) and nonsmokers (n=8) were imaged with [(123)]beta-CIT single photon emission computed tomography. Alcohol drinking smokers and nonsmokers consumed 134.3+/-100.3 and 196.5+/-139.9 drinks, respectively, over the previous month and were imaged during acute withdrawal, eg within 5 days of their last drink. Striatal DA transporter availability was significantly higher (16%, P=0.04) in alcohol drinkers compared to controls. 5-HT transporter availability was also significantly higher in alcohol drinkers vs controls in the brainstem (25%, P=0.001) and the diencephalon (8%, P=0.01). This elevation was restricted to alcohol drinking nonsmokers with higher DA transporter availability in the striatum (26%, P=0.006), and higher 5-HT transporter availability in the diencephalon (26%, P=0.04) and brainstem (42%, P<0.0002). There was a significant positive correlation between days since last drink and 5-HT transporter availability in the diencephalon (r=0.60, P=0.023) and brainstem (r=0.54, P=0.047), in the total group of alcohol drinkers and in the nonsmokers, but not the smokers. During the first week of abstinence, DA and 5-HT transporter availability is higher in alcohol drinking nonsmokers but not in alcohol drinking smokers. Smoking appears to suppress neuroadaptive changes in DA and 5-HT transporters during acute withdrawal from alcohol.

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