, Volume 185, Issue 2, pp 188-200
Date: 10 Feb 2006

Previous experience of ethanol withdrawal increases withdrawal-induced c-fos expression in limbic areas, but not withdrawal-induced anxiety and prevents withdrawal-induced elevations in plasma corticosterone

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Increased anxiety is a characteristic of the acute ethanol withdrawal syndrome. Repeated exposure of rats to withdrawal from chronic ethanol increases sensitivity to seizures.


We investigated whether repeated withdrawal experience increases withdrawal-induced anxiety and stress, and if it changes withdrawal-induced activation of related brain areas.


Rats were chronically treated with an ethanol-containing liquid diet either for 24 days continuously (single withdrawal, SWD) or interspersed with 2×3-day withdrawal periods (repeated withdrawal, RWD), or with a control diet. Eight hours after ethanol withdrawal, anxiety-like behaviour was tested in the elevated plus-maze, blood corticosterone levels were measured, and expression level of markers of neuronal activity and plasticity, c-fos and zif268, was assessed.


Eight hours after ethanol withdrawal, SWD rats showed increased anxiety on the elevated plus-maze relative to control rats. Rats given previous withdrawal experiences did not show further increases in measures of anxiety. Corticosterone levels were elevated during withdrawal in SWD rats but not in RWD rats. RWD resulted in marked increases in c-fos expression in amygdala, hippocampus, nucleus accumbens and dorsolateral periaqueductal grey. In contrast, zif268 expression was not increased after RWD, and in central amygdala the marked increase in zif268 seen after SWD was absent after RWD.


The data suggest increased ability of withdrawal to activate neuronal circuits but reduced plasticity after RWD. We suggest parallels between the consequences of repeated ethanol withdrawal and repeated exposure to stress, and discuss implications of withdrawal for brain plasticity.