Dopaminergic-GABAergic interplay and alcohol binge drinking

Pharmacol Res. 2019 Mar;141:384-391. doi: 10.1016/j.phrs.2019.01.022. Epub 2019 Jan 12.


The dopamine D3 receptor (D3R), in the nucleus accumbens (NAc), plays an important role in alcohol reward mechanisms. The major neuronal type within the NAc is the GABAergic medium spiny neuron (MSN), whose activity is regulated by dopaminergic inputs. We previously reported that genetic deletion or pharmacological blockade of D3R increases GABAA α6 subunit in the ventral striatum. Here we tested the hypothesis that D3R-dependent changes in GABAA α6 subunit in the NAc affect voluntary alcohol intake, by influencing the inhibitory transmission of MSNs. We performed in vivo and ex vivo experiments in D3R knockout (D3R -/-) mice and wild type littermates (D3R +/+). Ro 15-4513, a high affinity α6-GABAA ligand was used to study α6 activity. At baseline, NAc α6 expression was negligible in D3R+/+, whereas it was robust in D3R-/-; other relevant GABAA subunits were not changed. In situ hybridization and qPCR confirmed α6 subunit mRNA expression especially in the NAc. In the drinking-in-the-dark paradigm, systemic administration of Ro 15-4513 inhibited alcohol intake in D3R+/+, but increased it in D3R-/-; this was confirmed by intra-NAc administration of Ro 15-4513 and furosemide, a selective α6-GABAA antagonist. Whole-cell patch-clamp showed peak amplitudes of miniature inhibitory postsynaptic currents in NAc medium spiny neurons higher in D3R-/- compared to D3R+/+; Ro 15-4513 reduced the peak amplitude in the NAc of D3R-/-, but not in D3R+/+. We conclude that D3R-dependent enhanced expression of α6 GABAA subunit inhibits voluntary alcohol intake by increasing GABA inhibition in the NAc.

Keywords: Alpha6 subunit; Dopamine D3 receptor; Ethanol; Furosemide (PubChem CID: 3440); GABA(A)receptor; Nucleus accumbens; Ro 15-4513; Ro 15-4513 (PubChem CID: 5081); SB 277011A (PubChem CID: 75358288).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Binge Drinking / genetics*
  • Binge Drinking / pathology
  • GABAergic Neurons / metabolism
  • GABAergic Neurons / pathology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Nucleus Accumbens / metabolism
  • Nucleus Accumbens / pathology
  • Protein Subunits / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Receptors, Dopamine D3 / genetics*
  • Receptors, GABA-A / genetics*


  • Protein Subunits
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Dopamine D3
  • Receptors, GABA-A