, Volume 219, Issue 4, pp 1165-1177
Date: 01 Sep 2011

Developmental differences in ethanol-induced sensitization using postweanling, adolescent, and adult Swiss mice

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The maturing adolescent brain has been suggested to be more sensitive than the adult brain to ethanol-induced neuroadaptations. In animal studies, sensitization to the stimulant effects of ethanol is used to study the vulnerability to chronic ethanol-induced neurobehavioral alterations.


The aim of the present study was to systematically characterize age-dependent changes in the development and expression of the sensitization to the stimulant effects of a range of ethanol doses in female Swiss mice. Three ages were studied: 21-day-old mice (postweanlings), 35-day-old mice (adolescents), and 63-day-old mice (adults).


Postweanling, adolescent, and adult mice were daily injected with saline or various ethanol doses (1.5 to 4 g/kg) for 7 days. They were then tested for acute and sensitized locomotor activity.


Postweanling and adolescent mice were more sensitive than adult mice to the acute stimulant effects of ethanol. In adult mice, daily injections of ethanol at doses between 2.5 and 4 g/kg led to significant sensitization. Higher ethanol doses (3.5 and 4 g/kg) were required to induce sensitization in postweanling and adolescent mice. However, younger mice showed ethanol sensitization of higher magnitude.


Young mice develop very strong ethanol sensitization at doses that mimic binge drinking in humans. These results might explain why early ethanol drinking during adolescence is related to a higher prevalence of subsequent alcohol disorders.