Developmental alterations of ethanol sensitivity in selectively bred high and low alcohol sensitive rats

Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2001 Oct-Nov;70(2-3):387-96. doi: 10.1016/s0091-3057(01)00621-9.


Initial sensitivity and acute tolerance to ethanol have been implicated as risk factors in the development of alcoholism in humans. These behaviors were investigated in rats selectively bred for differences in hypnotic sensitivity following their first dose of ethanol in two different experiments. In Experiment 1, developmental profiles of the association between initial sensitivity and acute tolerance induced by a single exposure to ethanol were examined using male and female high, low, and control alcohol sensitive (HAS, LAS, and CAS) rats. Dose-response curves were constructed for duration of the loss of the righting reflex and for blood ethanol concentration (BEC) at the regain of the righting reflex. Animals were tested with a single ethanol dose ranging from 1.5 to 5.0 g/kg at either 15, 25, 40, 70, 120, or 180 days of age (DOA). For each group, acute tolerance to ethanol was estimated by the slope of the regression line using dose of ethanol and mean BEC at regain. In general, all rat lines showed an increase in hypnotic sensitivity to ethanol with age. To a large degree, the lower sensitivity observed in 15 and 25 DOA HAS and LAS rats was associated with an increase in the development of acute ethanol tolerance relative to older rats. Divergence of the LAS and CAS lines was evident by 25 DOA and remained stable with advancing age. However, HAS rats did not differ significantly from CAS rats until 40 DOA, after which the magnitude of the difference continued to increase with age. In Experiment 2, rats were treated with alcohol at 25, 70, or 180 DOA. Rats at 70 or 180 DOA required less ethanol to disrupt their motor coordination on a rotating dowel (rotarod). Blood ethanol levels were determined at the loss and subsequent regain of the ability to negotiate the rotarod. Total duration of inability to negotiate the rotarod also was recorded. HAS rats were less able to remain on a rotarod while under the influence of alcohol relative to LAS and CAS rats regardless of age. However, no evidence of acute tolerance was observed in this experiment and, in fact, there was evidence of reverse tolerance in that all animals had lower BEC values at regain of ability than they did at loss.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Alcoholism / genetics
  • Alcoholism / physiopathology*
  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / blood
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / pharmacology*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Tolerance / genetics
  • Ethanol / blood
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Injections, Intraperitoneal
  • Male
  • Motor Skills / drug effects
  • Motor Skills / physiology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Sleep / drug effects
  • Sleep / genetics


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Ethanol