Early Experience and Sex Interact to Influence Limbic-Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal-Axis Function After Acute Alcohol Administration in Rhesus Macaques (Macaca mulatta)

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Abstract

Background:

Studies in rodents demonstrate sex differences in neuroendocrine stress axis activity after treatment with alcohol. In abstinent alcoholics, atypical depressives, and individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder, limbic-hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (LHPA)-axis activity is often blunted; among females in these patient populations, however, resistance to glucocorticoid feedback and increased pituitary reactivity is observed. Early parental loss is a major life stressor and is a risk factor for both affective disturbances and LHPA-axis abnormalities later in life. We wanted to determine whether sex and early life parental absence would interact to influence alcohol-induced alterations in LHPA-axis activity after exposure to ethanol in macaques.

Methods:

Animals were reared with their mothers in social groups (MR, n = 94) or without adults in peer-only groups (PR, n = 79). At 5 years of age, they received an intravenous infusion of alcohol (2–2.2 g/kg), and the effects of alcohol, sex, and rearing condition on ACTH and cortisol levels were analyzed by ANOVA.

Results:

Peer-reared females had higher ACTH levels than did PR males, MR females, and MR males after alcohol infusion. Alcohol-induced cortisol levels were not affected by sex and rearing condition.

Conclusions:

These findings suggest that there are sex differences in glucocorticoid negative feedback, pituitary responsivity, or release of ACTH secretagogues among individuals exposed to early life stress and emphasize the importance of considering sex effects when studying LHPA-axis dysregulation in alcoholism and other stress-related neuropsychiatric disorders.

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