Chemogenetic manipulation of astrocytic signaling in the basolateral amygdala reduces binge-like alcohol consumption in male mice

J Neurosci Res. 2021 Aug;99(8):1957-1972. doi: 10.1002/jnr.24841. Epub 2021 Apr 12.


Binge drinking is a common occurrence in the United States, but a high concentration of alcohol in the blood has been shown to have reinforcing and reciprocal effects on the neuroimmune system in both dependent and non-dependent scenarios. The first part of this study examined alcohol's effects on the astrocytic response in the central amygdala and basolateral amygdala (BLA) in a non-dependent model. C57BL/6J mice were given access to either ethanol, water, or sucrose during a "drinking in the dark" paradigm, and astrocyte number and astrogliosis were measured using immunohistochemistry. Results indicate that non-dependent consumption increased glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) density but not the number of GFAP+ cells, suggesting that non-dependent ethanol is sufficient to elicit astrocyte activation. The second part of this study examined how astrocytes impacted behaviors and the neurochemistry related to alcohol using the chemogenetic tool, DREADDs (designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs). Transgenic GFAP-hM3Dq mice were administered clozapine N-oxide both peripherally, affecting the entire central nervous system (CNS), or directly into the BLA. In both instances, GFAP-Gq-signaling activation significantly reduced ethanol consumption and correlating blood ethanol concentrations. However, GFAP-Gq-DREADD activation throughout the CNS had more broad effects resulting in decreased locomotor activity and sucrose consumption. More targeted GFAP-Gq-signaling activation in the BLA only impacted ethanol consumption. Finally, a glutamate assay revealed that after GFAP-Gq-signaling activation glutamate concentrations in the amygdala were partially normalized to control levels. Altogether, these studies support the theory that astrocytes represent a viable target for alcohol use disorder therapies.

Keywords: DREADDs; GFAP; RRID:AB_143157; RRID:AB_177521; RRID:AB_2336790; RRID:AB_2534096; RRID:AB_2889995; RRID:AB_305808; RRID:IMSR_JAX:000664; RRID:MGI:6148045; alcohol abuse; binge drinking; glia; glutamate.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / metabolism*
  • Basolateral Nuclear Complex / metabolism*
  • Binge Drinking / immunology
  • Binge Drinking / metabolism*
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein / metabolism*
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Motor Activity / drug effects


  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein
  • Ethanol
  • Glutamic Acid