Social isolation rearing increases nucleus accumbens dopamine and norepinephrine responses to acute ethanol in adulthood

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2014 Nov;38(11):2770-9. doi: 10.1111/acer.12555.


Background: Early-life stress is associated with increased vulnerability to alcohol addiction. However, the neural substrates linking chronic childhood/adolescent stress and increased risk of alcohol addiction are not well understood. In the nucleus accumbens (NAc), dopamine (DA) and norepinephrine (NE) signaling can be profoundly influenced by stress, anxiety, and drugs of abuse, including ethanol (EtOH). Here, we employed a rodent model of early-life stress that results in enduring increases in behavioral risk factors of alcoholism to gain a better understanding of how chronic adolescent stress may impact the EtOH sensitivity of DA and NE release in the NAc.

Methods: Male Long-Evans rats were either group housed (GH; 4 rats/cage) or socially isolated (SI; 1 rat/cage) for 6 weeks beginning on postnatal day 28. SI and GH rats were tested in adulthood for anxiety-like behaviors (elevated plus maze), and the effects of EtOH (1 and 2 g/kg; intraperitoneally.) on NAc DA and NE were assessed by microdialysis.

Results: SI animals showed increased anxiety-like behavior compared to GH animals. Although SI had no effect on baseline levels of DA or NE, baseline DA levels were positively correlated with anxiety measures. In addition, while no significant differences were observed with 1 g/kg EtOH, the 2 g/kg dose induced significantly greater DA release in SI animals. Moreover, EtOH (2 g/kg) only elevated NAc NE levels in SI rats.

Conclusions: These results suggest that chronic early-life stress sensitizes accumbal DA and NE release in response to an acute EtOH challenge. A greater EtOH sensitivity of DA and NE release dynamics in the NAc may contribute to increases in behavioral risk factors of alcoholism, like greater EtOH self-administration, that are observed in SI rats.

Keywords: Dopamine; Ethanol; Norepinephrine; Nucleus Accumbens; Social Isolation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / metabolism*
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology
  • Animals
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Ethanol / administration & dosage*
  • Male
  • Norepinephrine / metabolism*
  • Nucleus Accumbens / drug effects
  • Nucleus Accumbens / metabolism*
  • Random Allocation
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Self Administration
  • Social Isolation* / psychology


  • Ethanol
  • Dopamine
  • Norepinephrine