The impact of intermittent exercise on mouse ethanol drinking and abstinence-associated affective behavior and physiology

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2021 Nov 13. doi: 10.1111/acer.14742. Online ahead of print.


Background: Negative emotional states are associated with the initiation and maintenance of alcohol use and drive relapse to drinking during withdrawal and protracted abstinence. Physical exercise is correlated with decreased negative affective symptoms, although a direct relationship between drinking patterns and exercise level has not been fully elucidated.

Methods: We incorporated intermittent running wheel access into a chronic continuous access, two-bottle choice alcohol drinking model in female C57BL/6J mice. Wheel access was granted intermittently once mice established a preference for alcohol over water. After 6 weeks, alcohol was removed (forced abstinence) and mice were given continuous access to unlocked or locked wheels. Negative affect-like behavior, home cage behavior, and metabolic activity were measured during protracted abstinence.

Results: Wheel access shifted drinking patterns in the mice, increasing drinking when the wheel was locked, and decreasing drinking when unlocked. Moreover, alcohol preference and consumption were strongly negatively correlated with the amount of running. An assessment of negative affect-like behavior in abstinence via the novelty suppressed feeding and saccharin preference tests (SPT) showed that unlimited wheel access mitigated abstinence-induced latency increases. Mice in abstinence also spent more time sleeping during the active dark cycle than control mice, providing additional evidence for abstinence-induced anhedonia- and depression-like behavior. Furthermore, running wheel access in abstinence decreased dark cycle sleep to comparable alcohol- and wheel-naïve mice. Given the positive impact of exercise and the negative impact of alcohol on metabolic health, we compared metabolic phenotypes of alcohol-abstinent mice with and without wheel access. Wheel access increased energy expenditure, carbon dioxide production, and oxygen consumption, providing a potential metabolic mechanism through which wheel access improves affective state.

Conclusions: This study suggests that including exercise in AUD treatment regimens has the potential to reduce drinking, improve affective state during abstinence and could serve as a non-pharmacological approach to prevent the development of an AUD in high-risk individuals.

Keywords: EtOH; abstinence; affect; exercise; metabolism.