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Inhibition of the rostromedial tegmental nucleus reverses alcohol withdrawal-induced anxiety-like behavior

Neuropsychopharmacology (2019) | Download Citation


Acute withdrawal from alcohol is associated with a number of unpleasant symptoms that play an important role in preventing recovery and long-term abstinence. Considerable research has focused on the role that neuropeptide systems and the amygdala play in mediating affective symptoms of acute withdrawal, but promising preclinical findings have not translated successfully into the clinic. The rostromedial tegmental nucleus (RMTg) has been implicated in both fear and anxiety. In addition, RMTg neurons exert inhibitory control over midbrain dopamine neurons, the activity of which are suppressed during acute withdrawal. Thus, we hypothesized that the RMTg may play a role in mediating symptoms of acute withdrawal. Using a chronic ethanol vapor exposure paradigm that renders rats physically dependent on ethanol, we observed significant withdrawal-induced enhancement of cFos expression in the RMTg. This was accompanied by a significant increase in somatic symptoms and a decrease in reward sensitivity as measured by intracranial self-stimulation (ICSS). Both measures followed a similar time course to RMTg cFos expression with peak symptom severity occurring 12 h following cessation of ethanol exposure. Heightened anxiety-like behavior was also observed in withdrawn rats at this same time point. RMTg inhibition had no effect on somatic signs of withdrawal or withdrawal-induced changes in reward sensitivity, but significantly attenuated withdrawal-induced anxiety-like behavior. Together, these data demonstrate that the RMTg plays a distinct role in the negative affective state associated with acute withdrawal and may therefore be critically involved in the neurobiological mechanisms that promote relapse during early stages of recovery.

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Joint senior authors: Thomas C. Jhou, L. Judson Chandler


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  1. Department of Neuroscience, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, 29425, USA

    • Elizabeth J. Glover
    • , E. Margaret Starr
    • , Ying Chao
    • , Thomas C. Jhou
    •  & L. Judson Chandler
  2. Center for Drug & Alcohol Programs, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, 29425, USA

    • Elizabeth J. Glover
    • , E. Margaret Starr
    •  & L. Judson Chandler


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Correspondence to Elizabeth J. Glover.

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