Alcohol misuse and addiction is a worldwide problem causing enormous individual suffering as well as financial costs for the society. To develop pharmacological means to reduce suffering, we need to understand the mechanisms underlying the effects of ethanol in the brain. Ethanol is known to increase extracellular levels of both dopamine and taurine in the nucleus accumbens (nAc), a part of the brain reward system, but the two events have not been connected. In previous studies we have demonstrated that glycine receptors in the nAc are involved in modulating both basal- and ethanol-induced dopamine output in the same brain region. By means of in vivo microdialysis in freely moving rats we here demonstrate that the endogenous glycine receptor ligand taurine mimics ethanol in activating the brain reward system. Furthermore, administration of systemic ethanol diluted in an isotonic (0.9% NaCl) or hypertonic (3.6% NaCl) saline solution was investigated with respect to extracellular levels of taurine and dopamine in the nAc. We found that ethanol given in a hypertonic solution, contrary to an isotonic solution, failed to increase concentrations of both taurine and dopamine in the nAc. However, a modest, non-dopamine elevating concentration of taurine in the nAc disclosed a dopamine elevating effect of systemic ethanol also when given in a hypertonic solution. We conclude that the elevations of taurine and dopamine in the nAc are closely related and that in order for ethanol to induce dopamine release, a simultaneous increase of extracellular taurine levels in the nAc is required. These data also provide support for the notion that the nAc is the primary target for ethanol in its dopamine-activating effect after systemic administration and that taurine is a prominent participant in activating the brain reward system.
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Ventral tegmental area
Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor
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The authors are thankful for the technical assistance from Mrs Rosita Stomberg. This work was supported by Swedish Medical Research Council (Grants No: 2009-2289, 2009-4477, 2010-3100), governmental support under the LUA/ALF agreement, Wilhelm and Martina Lundgrens Scientific Foundation, the Swedish Brain foundation.
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