Adolescent alcohol binge drinking constitutes a major vulnerability factor to develop alcoholism. However, mechanisms underlying this susceptibility remain unknown. We evaluated the effect of adolescent binge-like ethanol intoxication on vulnerability to alcohol abuse in Sprague-Dawley rats. To model binge-like ethanol intoxication, every 2 days, rats received an ethanol injection (3.0 g/kg) for 2 consecutive days across 14 days either from postnatal day 30 (PND30) to 43 (early adolescence) or from PND 45 to PND 58 (late adolescence). In young adult animals, we measured free ethanol consumption in the two-bottle choice paradigm, motivation for ethanol in the operant self-administration task and both ethanol's rewarding and aversive properties in the conditioned place preference (CPP) and taste aversion (CTA) paradigms. While intermittent ethanol intoxications (IEI) during late adolescence had no effect on free-choice 10% ethanol consumption, we found that IEI during early adolescence promoted free-choice 10% ethanol consumption, enhanced motivation for ethanol in the self-administration paradigm and induced a loss of both ethanol-induced CPP and CTA in young adults. No modification in either sucrose self-administration or amphetamine-induced CPP was observed. As the nucleus accumbens (Nac) is particularly involved in addictive behavior, we analyzed IEI-induced long-term neuroadaptations in the Nac using c-Fos immunohistochemistry and an array of neurotransmission-related genes. This vulnerability to ethanol abuse was associated with a lower c-Fos immunoreactivity in the Nac and enduring alterations of the expression of Penk and Slc6a4, 2 neurotransmission-related genes that have been shown to play critical roles in the behavioral effects of ethanol and alcoholism.
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