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Author Notes:

Corresponding author: Jay M. Weiss, Emory University, School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Woodruff Memorial Research Building (WMB), Suite 4103, 101 Woodruff Circle, Atlanta, GA 30322, Telephone: +1 404 712-9772, jweis01@emory.edu.

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Research Funding:

This research was supported in part by Public Health Service Grant #AA021411.


  • Science & Technology
  • Life Sciences & Biomedicine
  • Substance Abuse
  • Pharmacology & Pharmacy
  • Toxicology
  • Selectively-bred rats
  • Alcohol
  • Locus coeruleus
  • Dopamine
  • Ventral tegmentum
  • Conditioned place preference

Locus coeruleus neuronal activity determines proclivity to consume alcohol in a selectively-bred line of rats that readily consumes alcohol


Journal Title:



Volume 49, Number 7


, Pages 691-705

Type of Work:

Article | Post-print: After Peer Review


Sprague-Dawley rats selectively-bred for susceptibility to stress in our laboratory (Susceptible, or SUS rats) voluntarily consume large amounts of alcohol, and amounts that have, as shown here, pharmacological effects, which normal rats will not do. In this paper, we explore neural events in the brain that underlie this propensity to readily consume alcohol. Activity of locus coeruleus neurons (LC), the major noradrenergic cell body concentration in the brain, influences firing of ventral tegmentum dopaminergic cell bodies of the mesocorticolimbic system (VTA-DA neurons), which mediate rewarding aspects of alcohol. We tested the hypothesis that in SUS rats, alcohol potently suppresses LC activity to markedly diminish LC-mediated inhibition of VTA-DA neurons, which permits alcohol to greatly increase VTA-DA activity and rewarding aspects of alcohol. Electrophysiological single-unit recording of LC and VTA-DA activity showed that in SUS rats, alcohol decreased LC burst firing much more than in normal rats and as a result markedly increased VTA-DA activity in SUS rats while having no such effect in normal rats. Consistent with this, in a behavioral test for reward using conditioned place preference (CPP), SUS rats showed alcohol, given by intraperitoneal (i.p.) injection, to be rewarding. Next, manipulation of LC activity by microinfusion of drugs into the LC region of SUS rats showed that (a) decreasing LC activity increased alcohol intake and increasing LC activity decreased alcohol intake in accord with the formulation described above, and (b) increasing LC activity blocked both the rewarding effect of alcohol in the CPP test and the usual alcohol-induced increase in VTA-DA single-unit activity seen in SUS rats. An important ancillary finding in the CPP test was that an increase in LC activity was rewarding by itself, while a decrease in LC activity was aversive; consequently, effects of LC manipulations on alcohol-related reward in the CPP test were perhaps even larger than evident in the test. Finally, when increased LC activity was associated with (i.e., conditioned to) i.p. alcohol, subsequent alcohol consumption by SUS rats was markedly reduced, indicating that SUS rats consume large amounts of alcohol because of rewarding physiological consequences requiring increased VTA-DA activity. The findings reported here are consistent with the view that the influence of alcohol on LC activity leading to changes in VTA-DA activity strongly affects alcohol-mediated reward, and may well be the basis of the proclivity of SUS rats to avidly consume alcohol.

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© 2015 Elsevier Inc.

This is an Open Access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/).

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