Background: Transient overexpression of the dopamine D2 receptor (DRD2) gene in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) using an adenoviral vector has been associated with a significant decrease in alcohol intake in Sprague Dawley rats. This overexpression of DRD2 reduced alcohol consumption in a two-bottle-choice paradigm and supported the view that high levels of DRD2 may be protective against alcohol abuse.
Methods: Using a limited access (1 hr) two-bottle-choice (water versus 10% ethanol) drinking paradigm, we examined the effects of the DRD2 vector in alcohol intake in the genetically inbred alcohol-preferring (P) and -nonpreferring (NP) rats. In addition, micro-positron emission tomography imaging was used at the completion of the study to assess in vivo the chronic (7 weeks) effects of ethanol exposure on DRD2 levels between the two groups.
Results: P rats that were treated with the DRD2 vector (in the NAc) significantly attenuated their alcohol preference (37% decrease) and intake (48% decrease), and these measures returned to pretreatment levels by day 20. A similar pattern of behavior (attenuation of ethanol drinking) was observed in NP rats. Analysis of the [C]raclopride micro-positron emission tomography data after chronic (7 weeks) exposure to ethanol revealed clear DRD2 binding differences between the P and NP rats. P rats showed 16% lower [C]raclopride specific binding in striatum than the NP rats.
Conclusions: These findings further support our hypothesis that high levels of DRD2 are causally associated with a reduction in alcohol consumption and may serve as a protective factor against alcoholism. That this effect was seen in P rats, which are predisposed to alcohol intake, suggests that they are protective even in those who are genetically predisposed to high alcohol intake. It is noteworthy that increasing DRD2 significantly decreased alcohol intake but did not abolish it, suggesting that high DRD2 levels may specifically interfere with the administration of large quantities of alcohol. The significantly higher DRD2 concentration in NP than P rats after 7 weeks of ethanol therefore could account for low alcohol intake.