Sex and Individual Differences in Alcohol Intake Are Associated with Differences in Ketamine Self-Administration Behaviors and Nucleus Accumbens Dendritic Spine Density

eNeuro. 2019 Dec 4;6(6):ENEURO.0221-19.2019. doi: 10.1523/ENEURO.0221-19.2019. Print 2019 Nov/Dec.


Clinical and preclinical studies have shown that ketamine, an NMDA receptor antagonist, has promising therapeutic value for the treatment of alcohol use disorder (AUD). However, the maintenance of remission will ultimately require repeated infusions of ketamine, which may lead to abuse potential and may hinder its therapeutic benefits. It is therefore crucial to assess the effects of repeated treatments with ketamine on alcohol intake. Accordingly, this study aimed to examine in both sexes how individual differences in alcohol intake alter ketamine self-administration and how ketamine self-administration will alter subsequent alcohol-drinking behaviors. Male and female rats intermittently drank alcohol or water for 10 weeks and were divided into high- or low-alcohol intake groups prior to ketamine self-administration. Rats self-administered ketamine under fixed and progressive ratio schedules of reinforcement from week 4 to 7, and the incubation of ketamine craving was examined from week 8 to 10. To investigate structural plasticity in a brain region involved in reward, nucleus accumbens dendritic spine morphology was examined. Our results show that high alcohol intake in male rats attenuated ketamine self-administration, whereas in female rats high alcohol intake enhanced motivation to self-administer ketamine. Ketamine reduced alcohol intake in high-alcohol male rats but increased it in low-alcohol female rats. Incubation of ketamine craving developed in all groups except low-alcohol females. Three weeks of abstinence from ketamine was associated with increased mushroom spines in all groups except the high-alcohol male group. Overall, these data suggest that ketamine as a treatment for AUD may benefit male subjects, but not female subjects, and warrants further investigation before use as a therapeutic agent.

Keywords: addiction; alcohol; individual differences; ketamine; rats; sex differences.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / physiopathology*
  • Animals
  • Dendritic Spines / drug effects*
  • Dendritic Spines / physiology
  • Ethanol / administration & dosage*
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / administration & dosage
  • Female
  • Individuality*
  • Ketamine / administration & dosage*
  • Male
  • Neuronal Plasticity / drug effects
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Nucleus Accumbens / drug effects*
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Self Administration
  • Sex Factors


  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists
  • Ethanol
  • Ketamine