In vivo chronic intermittent ethanol exposure reverses the polarity of synaptic plasticity in the nucleus accumbens shell.
Glutamatergic synaptic plasticity in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) is implicated in response to sensitization to psychomotor-stimulating agents, yet ethanol effects here are undefined. We studied the acute in vitro and in vivo effects of ethanol in medium spiny neurons from the shell NAc subregion of slices of C57BL/6 mice by using whole-cell voltage-clamp recordings of α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-isoxazole-4-propionic acid (AMPA) excitatory postsynaptic current (EPSCs). Synaptic conditioning (low-frequency stimulation with concurrent postsynaptic depolarization) reliably depressed AMPA EPSCs by nearly 30%; this accumbal long-term depression (LTD) was blocked by a nonselective N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist (DL-2-amino-5-phosphonovaleric acid) and a selective NMDA receptor 2B antagonist [R-(R*,S*)-α-(4-hydroxyphenyl)-β-methyl-4-(phenylmethyl)-1-piperidine propanol]. Acute ethanol exposure inhibited the depression of AMPA EPSCs differentially with increasing concentrations, but this inhibitory action of ethanol was occluded by a D1-selective dopamine receptor agonist. Ethanol dependence was elicited in C57BL/6 mice by two separate 4-day bouts of chronic intermittent ethanol (CIE) vapor exposure. When assessed 24 h after a single bout of in vivo CIE vapor exposure, NAc LTD was absent, and instead NMDA receptor-dependent synaptic potentiation [long-term potentiation (LTP)] was reliably observed. It is noteworthy that both LTP and LTD were completely absent after an extended withdrawal (72 h) after a single 3-day CIE vapor bout. These observations demonstrate that 1) accumbal synaptic depression is mediated by NR2B receptors, 2) accumbal synaptic depression is highly sensitive to both acute and chronic ethanol exposure, and 3) alterations in this synaptic process may constitute a neural adaptation that contributes to the induction and/or expression of ethanol dependence.