Effects of the glucocorticoid antagonist, mifepristone, on the consequences of withdrawal from long term alcohol consumption

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2008 Dec;32(12):2107-16. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2008.00799.x. Epub 2008 Sep 30.


Background: Studies were carried out to test the hypothesis that administration of a glucocorticoid Type II receptor antagonist, mifepristone (RU38486), just prior to withdrawal from chronic alcohol treatment, would prevent the consequences of the alcohol consumption and withdrawal in mice.

Materials and methods: The effects of administration of a single intraperitoneal dose of mifepristone were examined on alcohol withdrawal hyperexcitability. Memory deficits during the abstinence phase were measured using repeat exposure to the elevated plus maze, the object recognition test, and the odor habituation/discrimination test. Neurotoxicity in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex was examined using NeuN staining.

Results: Mifepristone reduced, though did not prevent, the behavioral hyperexcitability seen in TO strain mice during the acute phase of alcohol withdrawal (4 hours to 8 hours after cessation of alcohol consumption) following chronic alcohol treatment via liquid diet. There were no alterations in anxiety-related behavior in these mice at 1 week into withdrawal, as measured using the elevated plus maze. However, changes in behavior during a second exposure to the elevated plus maze 1 week later were significantly reduced by the administration of mifepristone prior to withdrawal, indicating a reduction in the memory deficits caused by the chronic alcohol treatment and withdrawal. The object recognition test and the odor habituation and discrimination test were then used to measure memory deficits in more detail, at between 1 and 2 weeks after alcohol withdrawal in C57/BL10 strain mice given alcohol chronically via the drinking fluid. A single dose of mifepristone given at the time of alcohol withdrawal significantly reduced the memory deficits in both tests. NeuN staining showed no evidence of neuronal loss in either prefrontal cortex or hippocampus after withdrawal from chronic alcohol treatment.

Conclusions: The results suggest mifepristone may be of value in the treatment of alcoholics to reduce their cognitive deficits.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects
  • Alcohol Drinking / drug therapy*
  • Animals
  • Glucocorticoids / analysis
  • Glucocorticoids / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Hormone Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Hormone Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders / complications
  • Memory Disorders / drug therapy
  • Memory Disorders / psychology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mifepristone / pharmacology
  • Mifepristone / therapeutic use*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / complications
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / psychology


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Hormone Antagonists
  • Mifepristone