Sex differences and the lack of effects of chemogenetic manipulation of pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons on alcohol consumption in male and female mice

Brain Res. 2022 Jul 1:1786:147901. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2022.147901. Epub 2022 Mar 31.


The endogenous opioid system has been implicated in the rewarding and reinforcing effects of alcohol. Pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons located within the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus (ArcN) secrete multiple peptides associated with alcohol consumption, including β-endorphin (β-END), α-melanocyte stimulating hormone (α-MSH), and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). In this study, we utilized chemogenetics to bidirectionally modulate ArcN POMC neurons to determine their role in alcohol and saccharin consumption and regional levels of POMC-derived peptides. Male and female POMC-cre mice were infused with viral vectors designed for cre-dependent expression of either excitatory and inhibitory DREADDs or a control vector into the ArcN. Following recovery, animals were allowed to consume alcohol or saccharin using the drinking-in-the-dark (DID) paradigm of binge-like intake for 4 consecutive days. Prior to the final test session, animals were injected with clozapine-N-oxide (2.5 mg/kg, i.p.) for DREADD activation. Following the last DID session, animals were euthanized and the ArcN, VTA, amygdala and NAc were dissected and assessed for POMC peptide expression utilizing western blotting. We found that female mice consumed more alcohol than males during DID sessions 2-4, and that chemogenetic activation had no effect on alcohol or saccharin consumption in either sex. We found that β-END expression within the ArcN positively correlated with alcohol consumption. Given the molecular and functional heterogeneity of ArcN POMC neurons, future studies are needed to assess the effects of modulation of specific subpopulations of these neurons within the ArcN on consumption of rewarding substances such as alcohol and saccharin.

Keywords: Adrenocorticotropic hormone; Alcohol; Chemogenetics; Drinking-in-the-dark; Pro-opiomelanocortin; Saccharin; α-melanocyte stimulating hormone; β-endorphin.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Animals
  • Ethanol / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Pro-Opiomelanocortin* / genetics
  • Pro-Opiomelanocortin* / metabolism
  • Saccharin / metabolism
  • Saccharin / pharmacology
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • beta-Endorphin / metabolism


  • Ethanol
  • beta-Endorphin
  • Pro-Opiomelanocortin
  • Saccharin