Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic condition with devastating health and socioeconomic effects. Still, pharmacotherapies to treat AUD are scarce. In a prior study aimed at identifying novel AUD therapeutic targets, we investigated the DNA methylome of the nucleus accumbens core (NAcc) of rhesus macaques after chronic alcohol use. The G-protein coupled receptor 39 (GPR39) gene was hypermethylated and its expression downregulated in heavy alcohol drinking macaques. GPR39 encodes a Zn2+-binding metabotropic receptor known to modulate excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmission, the balance of which is altered in AUD. These prior findings suggest that a GPR39 agonist would reduce alcohol intake. Using a drinking-in-the-dark two bottle choice (DID-2BC) model, we showed that an acute 7.5 mg/kg dose of the GPR39 agonist, TC-G 1008, reduced ethanol intake in mice without affecting total fluid intake, locomotor activity or saccharin preference. Furthermore, repeated doses of the agonist prevented ethanol escalation in an intermittent access 2BC paradigm (IA-2BC). This effect was reversible, as ethanol escalation followed agonist “wash out”. As observed during the DID-2BC study, a subsequent acute agonist challenge during the IA-2BC procedure reduced ethanol intake by ~47%. Finally, Gpr39 activation was associated with changes in Gpr39 and Bdnf expression, and in glutamate release in the NAcc. Together, our findings suggest that GPR39 is a promising target for the development of prevention and treatment therapies for AUD.
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The authors thank Houda Mesnaoui for technical assistance.