Ghrelin increases GABAergic transmission and interacts with ethanol actions in the rat central nucleus of the amygdala

Maureen T. Cruz, Melissa A. Herman, Dawn M. Cote, Andrey E. Ryabinin, Marisa Roberto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


The neural circuitry that processes natural rewards converges with that engaged by addictive drugs. Because of this common neurocircuitry, drugs of abuse have been able to engage the hedonic mechanisms normally associated with the processing of natural rewards. Ghrelin is an orexigenic peptide that stimulates food intake by activating GHS-R1A receptors in the hypothalamus. However, ghrelin also activates GHS-R1A receptors on extrahypothalamic targets that mediate alcohol reward. The central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) has a critical role in regulating ethanol consumption and the response to ethanol withdrawal. We previously demonstrated that rat CeA GABAergic transmission is enhanced by acute and chronic ethanol treatment. Here, we used quantitative RT-PCR (qRT-PCR) to detect Ghsr mRNA in the CeA and performed electrophysiological recordings to measure ghrelin effects on GABA transmission in this brain region. Furthermore, we examined whether acute or chronic ethanol treatment would alter these electrophysiological effects. Our qRT-PCR studies show the presence of Ghsr mRNA in the CeA. In naive animals, superfusion of ghrelin increased the amplitude of evoked inhibitory postsynaptic potentials (IPSPs) and the frequency of miniature inhibitory postsynaptic currents (mIPSCs). Coapplication of ethanol further increased the ghrelin-induced enhancement of IPSP amplitude, but to a lesser extent than ethanol alone. When applied alone, ethanol significantly increased IPSP amplitude, but this effect was attenuated by the application of ghrelin. In neurons from chronic ethanol-treated (CET) animals, the magnitude of ghrelin-induced increases in IPSP amplitude was not significantly different from that in naive animals, but the ethanol-induced increase in amplitude was abolished. Superfusion of the GHS-R1A antagonists D-Lys3-GHRP-6 and JMV 3002 decreased evoked IPSP and mIPSC frequency, revealing tonic ghrelin activity in the CeA. D-Lys3-GHRP-6 and JMV 3002 also blocked ghrelin-induced increases in GABAergic responses. Furthermore, D-Lys3-GHRP-6 did not affect ethanol-induced increases in IPSP amplitude. These studies implicate a potential role for the ghrelin system in regulating GABAergic transmission and a complex interaction with ethanol at CeA GABAergic synapses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)364-375
Number of pages12
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2013


  • alcohol dependence
  • central nucleus of the amygdala
  • electrophysiology
  • ethanol
  • ghrelin
  • neuroadaptation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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