Chronic naltrexone treatment and ethanol responsivity in outbred rats


Background: Acute naltrexone treatment in rats produces significant alterations in ethanol palatability (increase in the aversiveness of the solution) and ethanol consumption during tests of restricted access (decrease in consumption). The effects of chronic naltrexone exposure, accomplished by implantation of osmotic mini-pumps, were examined in the present study. Methods: Rats were surgically implanted with intraoral fistulae for taste reactivity testing. The animals were given 2 bottles (distilled water and 10% ethanol, v/v) for 3, 2-week phases: Pre-Drug, Drug, and Post-Drug. After the Pre-Drug phase, rats were assigned to groups (counterbalanced based on ethanol intake) and implanted with a mini-pump containing saline, 7.5 mg/kg/d naltrexone, or 15 mg/kg/d naltrexone. The pumps were removed 2 weeks later. During each 2-week phase, taste reactivity tests with 10% ethanol were conducted at 1, 7, and 14 days (a total of 9 reactivity tests). Results: The 7.5 mg/kg/d dose produced only minor effects on 10% ethanol reactivity and consumption during the Drug phase. The 15 mg/kg/d naltrexone dose generally shifted taste reactivity responding to 10% ethanol in a negative direction and produced a transient decrease in ethanol consumption. The 15 mg/kg/d group significantly increased ethanol consumption beyond the level of consumption by the Saline group when the pumps were removed, although the increase was delayed 48 hours. By the end of the Post-Drug period, this naltrexone group returned to control levels of ethanol consumption. Conclusions: Chronic naltrexone treatment at 15 mg/kg/d significantly decreased the palatability of a 10% ethanol solution, an effect seen even after drug withdrawal. Naltrexone had a minor effect on ethanol consumption during treatment but did decrease overall levels of fluid consumption. The significant increase in ethanol consumption postdrug by the high-dose naltrexone group, presumably due to receptor up-regulation during treatment, is important and understanding this effect and developing means of overcoming it within a clinical practice would be useful goals. © 2009 Research Society on Alcoholism.

Publication Title

Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research