Sex differences in the synergistic effect of prior binge drinking and traumatic stress on subsequent ethanol intake and neurochemical responses in adult C57BL/6J mice

Deborah A. Finn, Melinda L. Helms, Michelle A. Nipper, Allison Cohen, Jeremiah P. Jensen, Leslie L. Devaud

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Alcohol-use disorders (AUDs) are characterized by repeated episodes of binge drinking. Based on reports that exposure to predator odor stress (PS) consistently increases ethanol intake, the present studies examined whether prior binge drinking differentially altered responsivity to PS and subsequent ethanol intake in male and female mice, when compared to mice without prior binge exposure. Initial studies in naïve male and female C57BL/6J mice confirmed that 30-min exposure to dirty rat bedding significantly increased plasma corticosterone (CORT) levels and anxiety-related behavior, justifying the use of dirty rat bedding as PS in the subsequent drinking studies. Next, separate groups of male and female C57BL/6J mice received seven binge ethanol sessions (binge) or drank water (controls), followed by a 1-month period of abstinence. Then, 2-bottle choice ethanol intake (10% or 10E vs. water, 23 h/day) was measured in lickometer chambers for 4 weeks. After baseline intake stabilized, exposure to intermittent PS (2×/week × 2 weeks) significantly enhanced ethanol intake after the 2nd PS in male, but not female, binge mice vs. baseline and vs. the increase in controls. However, in a subgroup of females (with low baselines), PS produced a similar increase in 10E intake in control and binge mice vs. baseline. Analysis of lick behavior determined that the enhanced 10E intake in binge male mice and in the female low baseline subgroup was associated with a significant increase in 10E bout frequency and 10E licks throughout the circadian dark phase. Thus, PS significantly increased 10E intake and had a synergistic interaction with prior binge drinking in males, whereas PS produced a similar significant increase in 10E intake in the low baseline subgroup of binge and control females. Plasma CORT levels were increased significantly in both binge and control animals after PS. CORT levels at 24-h withdrawal from daily 10E intake were highest in the groups with elevated 10E licks (i.e., binge males and control females). At 24-h withdrawal, protein levels of GABAA receptor α1 subunit, corticotropin releasing factor receptor 1, and glucocorticoid receptor in prefrontal cortex (PFC) and hippocampus (HC) were differentially altered in the male and female mice vs. levels in separate groups of age-matched naïve mice, with more changes in HC than in PFC and in females than in males. Importantly, the sexually divergent changes in protein levels in PFC and HC add to evidence for sex differences in the neurochemical systems influenced by stress and binge drinking, and argue for sex-specific pharmacological strategies to treat AUD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)33-45
Number of pages13
StatePublished - Sep 2018


  • Anxiety
  • Corticotrophin releasing factor receptor 1
  • GABA receptors
  • Hippocampus
  • Predator odor
  • Prefrontal cortex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Biochemistry
  • Toxicology
  • Neurology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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