The Mammalian Circadian Clock Exhibits Acute Tolerance to Ethanol

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Background: Tolerance to ethanol is observed over a variety of time courses, from minutes to days. Acute tolerance, which develops over 5 to 60 minutes, has been observed for both behavioral and neurophysiological variables and may involve changes in signaling through NMDA, GABA, or other receptors. Previous work has shown that both acute and chronic ethanol treatments modulate photic and nonphotic phase resetting of the mammalian circadian clock located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). Although not specifically tested, the data thus far do not point to the development of chronic tolerance to the modulatory effects of ethanol. Here we investigated whether acute tolerance the ethanol occurs with respect to in vitro phase modulation of the SCN clock.

Methods: Mouse brain slices containing the SCN were pretreated with ethanol for varying lengths of time, followed by treatment concurrent with either glutamate or the serotonin agonist, 8-hydroxy-DPAT (DPAT). The phase of the SCN circadian clock was assessed the following day through extracellular recordings of SCN neuronal activity. SCN neuronal activity normally peaks during mid-day, and this rhythm can be shifted by treatment with either glutamate or DPAT.

Results: While concurrent treatment of SCN-containing brain slices with ethanol and glutamate blocks glutamate-induced phase delays of the SCN clock, pretreating the slices with ethanol for ≥15 minutes prevents this inhibition. Likewise, while concurrent treatment with ethanol and DPAT enhances DPAT-induced phase advances of the SCN clock, pretreating the slices with ethanol for ≥30 minutes prevents this enhancement.

Conclusions: Both the inhibiting and enhancing effects of ethanol on in vitro SCN clock phase resetting show acute tolerance. Additional experiments are needed to determine whether more slowly developing forms of tolerance also occur with respect to the SCN circadian clock.

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