Repeated alcohol administration during adolescence causes changes in the mesolimbic dopaminergic and glutamatergic systems and promotes alcohol intake in the adult rat

J Neurochem. 2009 Feb;108(4):920-31. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-4159.2008.05835.x. Epub 2008 Dec 10.


Adolescence is a developmental period which the risk of drug and alcohol abuse increases. Since mesolimbic dopaminergic system undergoes developmental changes during adolescence, and this system is involved in rewarding effects of drugs of abuse, we addressed the hypothesis that ethanol exposure during juvenile/adolescent period over-activates mesolimbic dopaminergic system inducing adaptations which can trigger long-term enduring behavioural effects of alcohol abuse. We treated juvenile/adolescent or adult rats with ethanol (3 g/kg) for two-consecutive days at 48-h intervals over 14-day period. Here we show that intermittent ethanol treatment during the juvenile/adolescence period alters subsequent ethanol intake. In vivo microdialysis demonstrates that ethanol elicits a similar prolonged dopamine response in the nucleus accumbens of both adolescent and adult animals pre-treated with multiple doses of ethanol, although the basal dopamine levels were higher in ethanol-treated adolescents than in adult-treated animals. Repeated ethanol administration also down-regulates the expression of DRD2 and NMDAR2B phosphorylation in prefrontal cortex of adolescent animals, but not of adult rats. Finally, ethanol treatment during adolescence changes the acetylation of histones H3 and H4 in frontal cortex, nucleus accumbens and striatum, suggesting chromatin remodelling changes. In summary, our findings demonstrate the sensitivity of adolescent brain to ethanol effects on dopaminergic and glutamatergic neurotransmission, and suggest that abnormal plasticity in reward-related processes and epigenetic mechanisms could contribute to the vulnerability of adolescents to alcohol addiction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology
  • Alcohol-Induced Disorders, Nervous System / metabolism*
  • Alcohol-Induced Disorders, Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Alcoholism / metabolism*
  • Alcoholism / physiopathology
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / toxicity
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Ethanol / toxicity*
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism*
  • Limbic System / drug effects*
  • Limbic System / growth & development
  • Limbic System / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / drug effects
  • Neural Pathways / growth & development
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / drug effects
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Nucleus Accumbens / drug effects
  • Nucleus Accumbens / growth & development
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiopathology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Reward
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / drug effects
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / growth & development
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / physiopathology


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Ethanol
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Dopamine