Evidence suggests the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is involved in Alcohol Use Disorders (AUDs), which might be mediated by an imbalance of glucocorticoid receptor (GR), GRα and GRβ, activity. GRβ antagonizes the GRα isoform to cause glucocorticoid (GC) resistance. In the present study, we aimed to investigate the effects of chronic continuous free-choice access to ethanol on GR isoform expression in subregions of the mesocorticolimbic reward circuit. Adult male alcohol-preferring (P) rats had concurrent access to 15% and 30% ethanol solutions, with ad lib access to lab chow and water, for six weeks. Quantitative Real-time PCR (RT-PCR) analysis showed that chronic ethanol consumption reduced GRα expression in the nucleus accumbens shell (NAcsh) and hippocampus, whereas ethanol drinking reduced GRβ in the nucleus accumbens core (NAcc), prefrontal cortex (PFC), and hippocampus. An inhibitor of GRα, microRNA-124-3p (miR124-3p) was significantly higher in the NAcsh, and GC-induced gene, GILZ, as a measure of GC-responsiveness, was significantly lower. These were not changed in the NAcc. Likewise, genes associated with HPA axis activity were not significantly changed by ethanol drinking [i.e., corticotrophin-releasing hormone (Crh), adrenocorticotrophic hormone (Acth), and proopiomelanocortin (Pomc)] in these brain regions. Serum corticosterone levels were not changed by ethanol drinking. These data indicate that the expression of GRα and GRβ isoforms are differentially affected by ethanol drinking despite HPA-associated peptides remaining unchanged, at least at the time of tissue harvesting. Moreover, the results suggest that GR changes may stem from ethanol-induced GC-resistance in the NAcsh. These findings confirm a role for stress in high ethanol drinking, with GRα and GRβ implicated as targets for the treatment of AUDs.
Keywords: GRα; GRβ; P rats; ethanol; nucleus accumbens.
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