Granholm L, Todkar A, Bergman S, Nilsson K, Comasco E, Nylander I
Brain Res 1668 (-) 36-45 [2017-08-01; online 2017-05-13]
The young brain is highly sensitive to environmental influences that can cause long-term changes in neuronal function, possibly through altered gene expression. The endogenous opioid system continues to mature after birth and because of its involvement in reward, an inadequate maturation of this system could lead to enhanced susceptibility for alcohol use disorder. Recent studies show that the classical reward areas nucleus accumbens and ventral tegmental area are less affected by early life stress whereas endogenous opioids in non-classical areas, e.g. dorsal striatum and amygdala, are highly responsive. The aim was to investigate the interaction between early life conditions and adult voluntary ethanol intake on opioid gene expression. Male Wistar rats were exposed to conventional rearing, 15, or 360min of daily maternal separation (MS) postnatal day 1-21, and randomly assigned to ethanol or water drinking postnatal week 10-16. Rats exposed to early life stress (MS360) had increased opioid receptor gene (Oprm1, Oprd1 and Oprk1) expression in the dorsal striatum. Ethanol drinking was associated with lower striatal Oprd1 and Oprk1 expression solely in rats exposed to early life stress. Furthermore, rats exposed to early life stress had high inherent Pomc expression in the amygdala but low expression after ethanol intake. Thus, adverse events early in life induced changes in opioid gene expression and also influenced the central molecular response to ethanol intake. These long-term consequences of early life stress can contribute to the enhanced risk for excessive ethanol intake and alcohol use disorder seen after exposure to childhood adversity.