Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program




First Thesis Advisor

Dr. Steven N. Treistman


Ethanol, Rats, Vasopressins


One of the main components underlying drug addiction is the emergence of tolerance. Although its development is a complex issue, and is believed to have both psychological and physiological connotations, it is clear that some physiological change must occur that would enable an organism to withstand drug concentrations lethal to a naïve system. The purpose of this thesis was to identify and study a physiological mechanism, whose characteristics were altered due to chronic exposure to ethanol.

Vasopressin (AVP), whose primary function is to control water balance, release from the neurohypophysis is suppressed by an acute ethanol challenge. Therefore, I hypothesized; 1) that chronic ethanol exposure would reduce the normal suppression of AVP release during an acute ethanol challenge and 2) that the ion channels that are acutely sensitive to ethanol, involved in the control of AVP release, would exhibit a change in their ethanol sensitivity and characteristics.

To study the hypothesis, I utilized the neurohypophysis from rats chronically exposed to ethanol and yoked controls to determine whether chronic exposure would modify the acute ethanol sensitivity of the neurohypophysial vasopressin release mechanism. I examined whether the long-term ethanol exposure affected the suppression of vasopressin release from either or both the intact neurohypophysis and the isolated neurohypophysial terminals. In addition, I investigated how chronic exposure affected two types of potassium channels, the ethanol sensitive large conductance Ca+2-activated (BK) channel and the fast inactivating (IA) channel known to be insensitive to physiologically relevant concentrations of ethanol.

I was able to establish that chronic ethanol exposure reduced the suppression of vasopressin release by an acute ethanol challenge from both the intact neurohypophysis and the isolated neurohypophysial terminals. In addition, I discovered that oxytocin release was affected similarly. I concluded from this data that chronic exposure to ethanol affected a general mechanism, which controlled hormone release from the neurohypophysis, and that this mechanism could be isolated to the neurohypophysial terminals.

I also used electrophysiological techniques to study ion channel characteristics of both the BK and IA potassium channels. I found that in naïve rats, BK channels were potentiated and IA channels insensitive to physiological relevant concentrations of ethanol. But in chronic ethanol-exposed rats the BK channels exhibited a reduced sensitivity to ethanol while IA channels were inhibited. In addition, the current density of the BK channel was significantly reduced. These results show that at least one characteristic of each potassium channel has been modified. This suggests that chronic exposure can not only modify the ethanol sensitivity of ion channels known to be ethanol-sensitive, but also those believed to be relatively insensitive. Therefore, since modifications in these channels have previously been shown to alter the duration and frequency of action potentials, I conclude that these ethanol-induced modifications play a role in the modified hormone release patterns observed in the chronically exposed rats.



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