GIRK3 gates activation of the mesolimbic dopaminergic pathway by ethanol

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Jun 2;112(22):7091-6. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1416146112. Epub 2015 May 11.


G protein-gated inwardly rectifying potassium (GIRK) channels are critical regulators of neuronal excitability and can be directly activated by ethanol. Constitutive deletion of the GIRK3 subunit has minimal phenotypic consequences, except in response to drugs of abuse. Here we investigated how the GIRK3 subunit contributes to the cellular and behavioral effects of ethanol, as well as to voluntary ethanol consumption. We found that constitutive deletion of GIRK3 in knockout (KO) mice selectively increased ethanol binge-like drinking, without affecting ethanol metabolism, sensitivity to ethanol intoxication, or continuous-access drinking. Virally mediated expression of GIRK3 in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) reversed the phenotype of GIRK3 KO mice and further decreased the intake of their wild-type counterparts. In addition, GIRK3 KO mice showed a blunted response of the mesolimbic dopaminergic (DA) pathway to ethanol, as assessed by ethanol-induced excitation of VTA neurons and DA release in the nucleus accumbens. These findings support the notion that the subunit composition of VTA GIRK channels is a critical determinant of DA neuron sensitivity to drugs of abuse. Furthermore, our study reveals the behavioral impact of this cellular effect, whereby the level of GIRK3 expression in the VTA tunes ethanol intake under binge-type conditions: the more GIRK3, the less ethanol drinking.

Keywords: Kcnj9; Kir3.3; alcohol; reward; ventral midbrain.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Binge Drinking / genetics
  • DNA Primers / genetics
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / metabolism*
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • G Protein-Coupled Inwardly-Rectifying Potassium Channels / deficiency
  • G Protein-Coupled Inwardly-Rectifying Potassium Channels / metabolism*
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Ion Channel Gating / genetics
  • Ion Channel Gating / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Microdialysis
  • Motivation / genetics*
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Reward


  • DNA Primers
  • G Protein-Coupled Inwardly-Rectifying Potassium Channels
  • Ethanol