Prefrontal Regulation of Punished Ethanol Self-administration

Biol Psychiatry. 2020 Jun 1;87(11):967-978. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2019.10.030. Epub 2019 Nov 13.


Background: A clinical hallmark of alcohol use disorder is persistent drinking despite potential adverse consequences. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) are positioned to exert top-down control over subcortical regions, such as the nucleus accumbens shell (NAcS) and basolateral amygdala, which encode positive and negative valence of ethanol (EtOH)-related stimuli. Prior rodent studies have implicated these regions in regulation of punished EtOH self-administration (EtOH-SA).

Methods: We conducted in vivo electrophysiological recordings in mouse vmPFC and dmPFC to obtain neuronal correlates of footshock-punished EtOH-SA. Ex vivo recordings were performed in NAcS D1 receptor-expressing medium spiny neurons receiving vmPFC input to examine punishment-related plasticity in this pathway. Optogenetic photosilencing was employed to assess the functional contribution of the vmPFC, dmPFC, vmPFC projections to NAcS, or vmPFC projections to basolateral amygdala, to punished EtOH-SA.

Results: Punishment reduced EtOH lever pressing and elicited aborted presses (lever approach followed by rapid retraction). Neurons in the vmPFC and dmPFC exhibited phasic firing to EtOH lever presses and aborts, but only in the vmPFC was there a population-level shift in coding from lever presses to aborts with punishment. Closed-loop vmPFC, but not dmPFC, photosilencing on a postpunishment probe test negated the reduction in EtOH lever presses but not in aborts. Punishment was associated with altered plasticity at vmPFC inputs to D1 receptor-expressing medium spiny neurons in the NAcS. Photosilencing vmPFC projections to the NAcS, but not to the basolateral amygdala, partially reversed suppression of EtOH lever presses on probe testing.

Conclusions: These findings demonstrate a key role for the vmPFC in regulating EtOH-SA after punishment, with implications for understanding the neural basis of compulsive drinking in alcohol use disorder.

Keywords: Alcohol; Amygdala; Compulsive; Corticostriatal; Infralimbic; Mouse; Nucleus accumbens.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ethanol*
  • Mice
  • Nucleus Accumbens*
  • Prefrontal Cortex
  • Punishment
  • Self Administration


  • Ethanol