The purpose of this thesis project was to examine the function of connexin-36 (Cx36) gap junctions (GJs) in producing alcohol's intoxicating and rewarding effects. GABA neurons are thought to inhibit dopamine (DA) neurotransmission in the mesocorticolimbic system, which originates in the midbrain ventral tegmental area (VTA) and projects to limbic structures such as the nucleus accumbens (NAcc). The mesolimbic DA system is believed to be the neural substrate of alcohol intoxication and addiction (Tepper, Paladini, & Celada, 1998). Alcohol suppresses the firing rate of GABA neurons in the VTA (Gallegos, Criado, Lee, Henriksen, & Steffensen, 1999) and presumably disinhibits DA neurons thereby resulting in enhanced release of DA in the NAcc. Interestingly, VTA GABA neurons appear to form part of a larger syncytium of GABA neurons in the reticular formation that are linked by electrical synapses via Cx36 GJs (Allison, et al., 2006; Stobbs, et al., 2004; Lassen, et al., 2007). Gap junction blockers, including the Cx36-selective antagonist mefloquine, also suppress the excitability and electrical coupling of VTA GABA neurons (Stobbs, et al., 2004). Thus, I hypothesized that Cx36 GJs cause synchrony in VTA GABA neurons which alcohol blocks to cause intoxication and reward. To accomplish these studies I compared the effects of intoxicating doses of ethanol in Cx36 knockout (KO) mice and mefloquine-treated mice and their wild-type (WT) controls with two tests that index ataxia, an open field activity system and the fixed-speed rotarod apparatus, as well as with ethanol self-administration. I found that Cx36 KO and mefloquine-treated mice exhibit significantly more ethanol-induced loss of movement in the open field test, a paradigm which indexes gross motor activity and tremor, but less ataxia than their WT controls in the rotarod paradigm, a paradigm which indexes balance and coordination. Most importantly, both Cx36 KO and mefloquine-treated mice consumed less ethanol than their controls. These findings provide evidence in support of the hypothesis that Cx36 GJs are important targets for ethanol effects in the mesolimbic system.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Neuroscience



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connexin, gap junction, alcohol, intoxication, reward