Increased accumbal dopamine during daily alcohol consumption and subsequent aggressive behavior in rats
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Alcohol drinking may lead to increased aggression in certain individuals, and both fighting and drinking increase levels of dopamine and serotonin in mesocorticolimbic structures. Assessing the dynamic changes in these neurotransmitters during the course of drinking and fighting has remained challenging.
The objective of the study was to learn about ongoing monoaminergic activity in the nucleus accumbens of rats that engaged in aggressive behavior after having consumed low doses of alcohol.
Materials and methods
After male members of breeding pairs of Long–Evans rats displayed reliable aggression toward an intruder into their home cage, they were trained to consume a 10% alcohol solution, leading to blood alcohol levels of 20–80 mg/dl. Subsequently, the effect of daily alcohol self-administration on aggression was determined in biweekly confrontations with an intruder. Finally, rats were implanted with a microdialysis probe aimed at the n. accumbens for sample collection before, during, and after a 10-min alcohol drinking session followed by a 10-min aggressive confrontation.
Accumbal dopamine, but not serotonin, levels tended to increase in anticipation of the daily alcohol session, reaching significance immediately after the alcohol session and remaining significantly elevated (by 40%) during and after the subsequent confrontation. No such changes were seen in residents that confronted an intruder without preceding alcohol consumption. Animals that had a history of becoming more aggressive after consumption of low levels of alcohol showed similar changes in dopamine levels as did animals that had no such history.
The rise in accumbal dopamine confirms previous findings and seems to reflect the anticipation of alcohol consumption; it persisted during the aggressive confrontation regardless of the level of aggression. The daily alcohol drinking for several months may have facilitated dopamine release and masked any further changes associated with the aggressive encounter.