Neuronal signaling systems and ethanol dependence

Mol Neurobiol. Winter 1998;17(1-3):1-15. doi: 10.1007/BF02802021.


In recent years there have been remarkable developments toward the understanding of the molecular and/or cellular changes in the neuronal second-messenger pathways during ethanol dependence. In general, it is believed that the cyclic adenosine 3',5'-monophosphate (cAMP) and the phosphoinositide (PI) signal-transduction pathways may be the intracellular targets that mediate the action of ethanol and ultimately contribute to the molecular events involved in the development of ethanol tolerance and dependence. Several laboratories have demonstrated that acute ethanol exposure increases, whereas protracted ethanol exposure decreases, agonist-stimulated adenylate cyclase activity in a variety of cell systems, including the rodent brain. Recent studies indicate that various postreceptor events of the cAMP signal transduction cascade (i.e., Gs protein, protein kinase A [PKA], and cAMP-responsive element binding protein [CREB]) in the rodent brain are also modulated by chronic ethanol exposure. The PI signal-transduction cascade represents another important second-messenger system that is modulated by both acute and chronic ethanol exposure in a variety of cell systems. It has been shown that protracted ethanol exposure significantly decreases phospholipase C (PLC) activity in the cerebral cortex of mice and rats. The decreased PLC activity during chronic ethanol exposure may be caused by a decrease in the protein levels of the PLC-beta 1 isozyme but not of PLC-delta 1 or PLC-gamma 1 isozymes in the rat cerebral cortex. Protein kinase C (PKC), which is a key step in the PI-signaling cascade, has been shown to be altered in a variety of cell systems by acute or chronic ethanol exposure. It appears from the literature that PKC plays an important role in the modulation of the function of various neurotransmitter receptors (e.g., gamma-aminobutyrate type A [GABAA], N-methyl-D-aspartate [NMDA], serotonin2A [5-HT2A], and 5-HT2C, and muscarinic [m1] receptors) resulting from ethanol exposure. The findings described in this review article indicate that neuronal-signaling proteins represent a molecular locus for the action of ethanol and are possibly involved in the neuro-adaptational mechanisms to protracted ethanol exposure. These findings support the notion that alterations in the cAMP and the PI-signaling cascades during chronic ethanol exposure could be the critical molecular events associated with the development of ethanol dependence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / physiopathology*
  • Animals
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Cyclic AMP / physiology
  • Drug Tolerance
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Second Messenger Systems / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Type C Phospholipases / metabolism


  • Cyclic AMP
  • Protein Kinases
  • Type C Phospholipases