Gene Expression Changes in Glutamate and GABA-A Receptors, Neuropeptides, Ion Channels, and Cholesterol Synthesis in the Periaqueductal Gray Following Binge-Like Alcohol Drinking by Adolescent Alcohol-Preferring (P) Rats

Jeanette N. Mcclintick, William J. Mcbride, Richard L. Bell, Zheng Ming Ding, Yunlong Liu, Xiaoling Xuei, Howard J. Edenberg

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Background: Binge drinking of alcohol during adolescence is a serious public health concern with long-term consequences, including increased pain, fear, and anxiety. The periaqueductal gray (PAG) is involved in processing pain, fear, and anxiety. The effects of adolescent binge drinking on gene expression in this region have yet to be studied. Methods: Male adolescent alcohol-preferring (P) rats were exposed to repeated binge drinking (three 1-hour sessions/d during the dark/cycle, 5 days/wk for 3 weeks starting at 28 days of age, ethanol intakes of 2.5 to 3 g/kg/session). We used RNA sequencing to assess the effects of ethanol intake on gene expression. Results: Ethanol significantly altered the expression of 1,670 of the 12,123 detected genes: 877 (53%) decreased. In the glutamate system, 23 genes were found to be altered, including reduction in 7 of 10 genes for metabotropic and NMDA receptors. Subunit changes in the NMDA receptor may make it less sensitive to ethanol. Changes in GABAA genes would most likely increase the ability of the PAG to produce tonic inhibition. Five serotonin receptor genes, 6 acetylcholine receptor genes, and 4 glycine receptor genes showed decreased expression in the alcohol-drinking rats. Opioid genes (e.g., Oprk1, Oprm1) and genes for neuropeptides linked to anxiety and panic behaviors (e.g., Npy1r) had mostly decreased expression. Genes for 27 potassium, 10 sodium, and 5 calcium ion channels were found to be differentially expressed. Nine genes in the cholesterol synthesis pathway had decreased expression, including Hmgcr, encoding the rate-limiting enzyme. Genes involved in the production of myelin also had decreased expression. Conclusions: The results demonstrate that binge alcohol drinking during adolescence produces developmental changes in the expression of key genes within the PAG; many of these changes point to increased susceptibility to pain, fear, and anxiety, which could contribute to excessive drinking to relieve these negative effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)955-968
Number of pages14
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2016



  • Adolescent Binge Drinking
  • Alcoholism
  • Anxiety
  • Brain
  • Cholesterol

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Toxicology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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