An ultrastructural analysis of the effects of ethanol self-administration on the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus in rhesus macaques

Vanessa A. Jimenez, Christa M. Helms, Anda Cornea, Charles K. Meshul, Kathleen A. Grant

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


A bidirectional relationship between stress and ethanol exists whereby stressful events are comorbid with problematic ethanol use and prolonged ethanol exposure results in adaptations of the physiological stress response. Endocrine response to stress is initiated in the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVN) with the synthesis and release of corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) and arginine-vasopressin (AVP). Alterations in CRH and AVP following long-term ethanol exposure in rodents is well demonstrated, however little is known about the response to ethanol in primates or the mechanisms of adaptation. We hypothesized that long-term ethanol self-administration in nonhuman primates would lead to ultrastructural changes in the PVN underlying adaptation to chronic ethanol. Double-label immunogold electron microscopy (EM) was used to measure presynaptic gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate density within synaptic terminals contacting CRH- and AVP-immunoreactive dendrites. Additionally, pituitary-adrenal hormones (ACTH, cortisol, DHEA-s and aldosterone) under two conditions (low and mild stress) were compared before and after self-administration. All hormones were elevated in response to the mild stressor independent of ethanol consumption. The presynaptic glutamate density in recurrent (i.e., intra-hypothalamic) CRH terminals was highly related to ethanol intake, and may be a permissive factor in increased drinking due to stress. Conversely, glutamate density within recurrent AVP terminals showed a trend-level increase following ethanol, but was not related to average daily consumption. Glutamate density in non-recurrent AVP terminals was related to aldosterone under the low stress condition while GABAergic density in this terminal population was related to water consumption. The results reveal distinct populations of presynaptic terminals whose glutamatergic or GABAergic density were uniquely related to water and ethanol consumption and circulating hormones.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number260
JournalFrontiers in Cellular Neuroscience
Issue numberJULY
StatePublished - Jul 14 2015


  • Arginine-vasopressin
  • Corticotropin-releasing hormone
  • Electron microscopy
  • Ethanol self-administration
  • Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis
  • Monkey
  • Paraventricular hypothalamus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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