Gender impacts behavioral and neurochemical adaptations in ethanol-dependent rats

Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1999 Dec;64(4):841-9. doi: 10.1016/s0091-3057(99)00164-1.


Previous investigations have found gender differences in the effects of chronic ethanol exposure on ethanol withdrawal behaviors as well as GABA(A) receptor gene expression. The present investigation extended these studies with additional behavioral and neurochemical measures of ethanol dependence and withdrawal. No significant gender differences in the elevated plus-maze assessment of ethanol withdrawal anxiety behaviors were found. However, the neuroactive steroid, 3alpha,5alpha-THP, increased exploratory behavior in ethanol withdrawn female, but not male, rats. GABA(A) receptor binding assays showed potent competition of [35S]TBPS binding by 3alpha,5alpha-THP. Control females displayed a decreased affinity for 3alpha,5alpha-THP compared to control males, as evidenced by a nearly 30% increase in the IC50 value. There was no significant effect of ethanol withdrawal on 3alpha,5alpha-THP modulation of [35S]TBPS binding. However, gender differences were observed in the effects of chronic ethanol exposure on GABA(A) receptor subunit peptide levels in the hypothalamus. Female rats had a significant increase in peptide levels for the alpha2 and alpha3 but not alpha4 subunit, whereas male rats displayed a significant increase in alpha4 and alpha3 but not alpha2 subunits compared to pair-fed control levels. Chronic ethanol-induced alterations in gene expression in the hypothalamus did not coincide with previous findings in the cerebral cortex. In particular, male rats showed an increase in alpha1 subunit peptide levels in the hypothalamus, whereas significant decreases in this subunit have been observed in the cerebral cortex. Both female and male rats showed significant increases in the alpha3 subunit in the hypothalamus but not the cerebral cortex. Taken together, these studies provide additional support for gender-selective effects of chronic ethanol-elicited adaptations at the molecular level.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological / physiology*
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / metabolism
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Animals
  • Bridged Bicyclo Compounds, Heterocyclic / metabolism
  • Ethanol
  • Female
  • Male
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, GABA-A / metabolism
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / psychology*


  • Bridged Bicyclo Compounds, Heterocyclic
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Ethanol
  • tert-butylbicyclophosphorothionate