Repeated ethanol intoxication induces behavioral sensitization in the absence of a sensitized accumbens dopamine response in C57BL/6J and DBA/2J mice

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2006 Feb;31(2):396-405. doi: 10.1038/sj.npp.1300833.


Repeated exposure to drugs of abuse results in an increased sensitivity to their behavioral effects, a phenomena referred to as behavioral sensitization. It has been suggested that the same neuroadaptations underlying behavioral sensitization contribute to the maintenance and reinstatement of addiction. Dysregulation of dopamine (DA) neurotransmission in the mesoaccumbens system is one neuroadaptation that is thought to lead to the compulsive drug-seeking that characterizes addiction. Evidence that sensitization to psychostimulants and opiates is associated with an enhancement of drug-evoked DA levels in the nucleus accumbens has also been obtained. Like other drugs of abuse, the acute administration of ethanol (ETOH) stimulates DA release in this brain region. Moreover, repeated ETOH experience results in an enhanced behavioral response to a subsequent ethanol challenge. Data regarding the influence of repeated ethanol intoxication and withdrawal upon mesoaccumbal DA neurotransmission is limited. Studies examining ETOH-evoked alterations in mesoaccumbal DA neurotransmission as a function of withdrawal duration are lacking. The present experiments quantified basal and ethanol-evoked DA levels 14 days and 24 h following the cessation of a repeated ETOH intoxication protocol, which results in sensitization to the locomotor activating effects of ethanol. Locomotor activity was assessed in parallel groups of animals. Studies were conducted in two mouse strains, C57BL/6J and DBA/2J, which differ in their behavioral responses to ETOH. The results indicate the development of transient tolerance to both ETOH-induced behavioral activation and evoked accumbens DA release at early withdrawal. Moreover, no enhanced DA response to a subsequent ETOH challenge could be demonstrated in ETOH experienced animals 2 weeks after withdrawal, in spite of the observation of clear behavioral sensitization at this time point. These results suggest that, at least in the case of ethanol, sensitization of the DA mesolimbic system may not be necessary for the development of behavioral sensitization.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholic Intoxication / etiology
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / physiopathology*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / administration & dosage*
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / blood
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Ethanol / administration & dosage*
  • Ethanol / blood
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Inbred DBA
  • Microdialysis / methods
  • Motor Activity / drug effects*
  • Nucleus Accumbens / drug effects*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Time Factors


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Ethanol
  • Dopamine