Chronic self-administration of alcohol results in elevated ΔFosB: comparison of hybrid mice with distinct drinking patterns
Background: The inability to reduce or regulate alcohol intake is a hallmark symptom for alcohol use disorders. Research on novel behavioral and genetic models of experience-induced changes in drinking will further our knowledge on alcohol use disorders. Distinct alcohol self-administration behaviors were previously observed when comparing two F1 hybrid strains of mice: C57BL/6J x NZB/B1NJ (BxN) show reduced alcohol preference after experience with high concentrations of alcohol and periods of abstinence while C57BL/6J x FVB/NJ (BxF) show sustained alcohol preference. These phenotypes are interesting because these hybrids demonstrate the occurrence of genetic additivity (BxN) and overdominance (BxF) in ethanol intake in an experience dependent manner. Specifically, BxF exhibit sustained alcohol preference and BxN exhibit reduced alcohol preference after experience with high ethanol concentrations; however, experience with low ethanol concentrations produce sustained alcohol preference for both hybrids. In the present study, we tested the hypothesis that these phenotypes are represented by differential production of the inducible transcription factor, ΔFosB, in reward, aversion, and stress related brain regions. Results: Changes in neuronal plasticity (as measured by ΔFosB levels) were experience dependent, as well as brain region and genotype specific, further supporting that neuronal circuitry underlies motivational aspects of ethanol consumption. BxN mice exhibiting reduced alcohol preference had lower ΔFosB levels in the Edinger-Westphal nucleus than mice exhibiting sustained alcohol preference, and increased ΔFosB levels in central medial amygdala as compared with control mice. BxN mice showing sustained alcohol preference exhibited higher ΔFosB levels in the ventral tegmental area, Edinger-Westphal nucleus, and amygdala (central and lateral divisions). Moreover, in BxN mice ΔFosB levels in the Edinger-Westphal nucleus and ventral tegmental regions significantly positively correlated with ethanol preference and intake. Additionally, hierarchical clustering analysis revealed that many ethanol-naïve mice with overall low ΔFosB levels are in a cluster, whereas many mice displaying sustained alcohol preference with overall high ΔFosB levels are in a cluster together. Conclusions: By comparing and contrasting two alcohol phenotypes, this study demonstrates that the reward- and stress-related circuits (including the Edinger-Westphal nucleus, ventral tegmental area, amygdala) undergo significant plasticity that manifests as reduced alcohol preference.