Adolescent, but Not Adult, Binge Ethanol Exposure Leads to Persistent Global Reductions of Choline Acetyltransferase Expressing Neurons in Brain


Ryan P. Vetreno, Margaret Broadwater, Wen Liu, Linda P. Spear, Fulton T. Crews


During the adolescent transition from childhood to adulthood, notable maturational changes occur in brain neurotransmitter systems. The cholinergic system is composed of several distinct nuclei that exert neuromodulatory control over cognition, arousal, and reward. Binge drinking and alcohol abuse are common during this stage, which might alter the developmental trajectory of this system leading to long-term changes in adult neurobiology. In Experiment 1, adolescent intermittent ethanol (AIE; 5.0 g/kg, i.g., 2-day on/2-day off from postnatal day [P] 25 to P55) treatment led to persistent, global reductions of choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) expression. Administration of the Toll-like receptor 4 agonist lipopolysaccharide to young adult rats (P70) produced a reduction in ChAT+IR that mimicked AIE. To determine if the binge ethanol-induced ChAT decline was unique to the adolescent, Experiment 2 examined ChAT+IR in the basal forebrain following adolescent (P28–P48) and adult (P70–P90) binge ethanol exposure. Twenty-five days later, ChAT expression was reduced in adolescent, but not adult, binge ethanol-exposed animals. In Experiment 3, expression of ChAT and vesicular acetylcholine transporter expression was found to be significantly reduced in the alcoholic basal forebrain relative to moderate drinking controls. Together, these data suggest that adolescent binge ethanol decreases adult ChAT expression, possibly through neuroimmune mechanisms, which might impact adult cognition, arousal, or reward sensitivity.