Evaluation of N-acetylcysteine on ethanol self-administration in ethanol-dependent rats

Neuropharmacology. 2019 May 15;150:112-120. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2019.03.010. Epub 2019 Mar 15.


Many components of ethanol addiction such as reinforcement, withdrawal, extinction, and relapse are known to involve glutamate transmission. NAC could counteract glutamatergic dysregulation underlying ethanol addiction. We previously demonstrated the efficacy of N-acetylcysteine (NAC) treatment to reduce ethanol consumption, motivation, seeking, and relapse in rats displaying a binge drinking-like phenotype. The current study assessed whether acute NAC could reduce ethanol self-administration, ethanol-seeking behavior, motivation, and reacquisition of ethanol self-administration following abstinence in ethanol-dependent rats. Ethanol dependence was induced by chronic intermittent ethanol (CIE) vapor exposure for 10 weeks in male Wistar rats. Effects of NAC (0, 25, 50 or 100 mg/kg; i.p.) were evaluated during acute withdrawal, 8 h after inhalation chambers were turned off. We evaluated NAC effect on the expression of the xCT protein expression (the target of NAC) and glutamate transporters (GLT-1) in dependent rats. We showed that in dependent rats, the low dose of NAC (25 mg/kg) reduced ethanol self-administration and motivation to consume ethanol, evaluated in a progressive ratio paradigm. At 50 mg/kg, but not 25 mg/kg, NAC reduced extinction responding and reacquisition of self-administration after 1 month abstinence. The xCT protein expression was decreased in the nucleus accumbens in dependent compared with ethanol-naïve rats. Thus, NAC may be effective by decreasing glutamate transmission through presynaptic mechanisms (i.e. the stimulation of xc--mediated increase in extrasynaptic glutamate levels). Our results demonstrate that NAC decreased ethanol self-administration, extinction responding, and relapse in ethanol-dependent animals, and thus strongly support clinical development of NAC for alcohol use disorders.

Keywords: Alcohol dependence; Ethanol self-administration; N-acetylcysteine; Rat; Relapse; Seeking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism*
  • Animals
  • Cystine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Cystine / pharmacology
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug-Seeking Behavior / drug effects*
  • Ethanol / administration & dosage*
  • Male
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Self Administration


  • Ethanol
  • Cystine
  • N-monoacetylcystine