Alcohol Consumption During Adolescence in a Mouse Model of Binge Drinking Alters the Intrinsic Excitability and Function of the Prefrontal Cortex Through a Reduction in the Hyperpolarization-Activated Cation Current

J Neurosci. 2018 Jul 4;38(27):6207-6222. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0550-18.2018. Epub 2018 Jun 18.


Periodic episodes of excessive alcohol consumption ("binge drinking") occur frequently among adolescents, and early binge drinking is associated with an increased risk of alcohol use disorders later in life. The PFC undergoes significant development during adolescence and hence may be especially susceptible to the effects of binge drinking. In humans and in animal models, adolescent alcohol exposure is known to alter PFC neuronal activity and produce deficits in PFC-dependent behaviors, such as decision making, response inhibition, and working memory. Using a voluntary intermittent access to alcohol (IA EtOH) procedure in male mice, we demonstrate that binge-level alcohol consumption during adolescence leads to altered drinking patterns and working memory deficits in young adulthood, two outcomes that suggest medial PFC dysfunction. We recorded from pyramidal neurons (PNs) in the prelimbic subregion of the medial PFC in slices obtained from mice that had IA EtOH and found that they display altered excitability, including a hyperpolarization of the resting membrane potential and reductions in the hyperpolarization-activated cation current (Ih) and in intrinsic persistent activity (a mode of neuronal firing that is dependent on Ih). Many of these effects on intrinsic excitability were sustained following abstinence and observed in mice that showed working memory deficits. In addition, we found that resting membrane potential and the Ih-dependent voltage "sag" in prelimbic PFC PNs are developmentally regulated during adolescence, suggesting that adolescent alcohol exposure may compromise PFC function by arresting the normal developmental trajectory of PN intrinsic excitability.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Binge alcohol drinking during adolescence has negative consequences for the function of the developing PFC. Using a mouse model of voluntary binge drinking during adolescence, we found that this behavior leads to working memory deficits and altered drinking behavior in adulthood. In addition, we found that adolescent drinking is associated with specific changes to the intrinsic excitability of pyramidal neurons in the PFC, reducing the ability of these neurons to generate intrinsic persistent activity, a phenomenon thought to be important for working memory. These findings may help explain why human adolescent binge drinkers show performance deficits on tasks mediated by the PFC.

Keywords: Ih; adolescence; alcohol; prefrontal cortex; working memory.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / drug effects
  • Animals
  • Binge Drinking / physiopathology*
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / toxicity*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Ethanol / toxicity*
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / drug effects
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Prefrontal Cortex / drug effects*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology
  • Pyramidal Cells / drug effects*


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Ethanol