Deletion of agouti-related protein blunts ethanol self-administration and binge-like drinking in mice

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Abstract

The melanocortin (MC) system is composed of peptides that are cleaved from the polypeptide precursor proopiomelanocortin (POMC). Recent pharmacological and genetic evidence suggests that melanocortin receptor (MCR) signaling modulates neurobiological responses to ethanol and ethanol intake. Agouti-related protein (AgRP) is synthesized by neurons in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus and is a natural antagonist of MCRs. Because central administration of the functionally active AgRP fragment AgRP-(83–132) increases ethanol intake by C57BL/6 J mice, we determined if mutant mice lacking normal production of AgRP (AgRP−/−) and maintained on a C57BL/6 J genetic background would show reduced self-administration of ethanol relative to littermate wild-type (AgRP+/+) mice. AgRP−/— mice showed reduced 8% (v/v) ethanol-reinforced lever-pressing behavior relative to AgRP+/+ mice in daily 2-h sessions, but normal sucrose-, saccharin- and water-reinforced lever-pressing. Similarly, AgRP−/− mice showed reduced consumption of 8% ethanol in a two-bottle limited access test (2 h/day), although this effect was largely sex-dependent. Using drinking-in-the-dark (DID) procedures, AgRP−/— mice showed blunted binge-like drinking of 20% (v/v) ethanol which was associated with lower blood ethanol levels (85 mg/dl) relative to AgRP+/+ mice (133 mg/dl) after 4 h of intake. AgRP−/− mice showed normal ethanol metabolism and did not show altered sensitivity to the sedative effects of ethanol. These observations with genetically altered mice are consistent with previous pharmacological data and suggest that endogenous AgRP signaling modulates the reinforcing properties of ethanol and binge-like ethanol drinking.

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