Selective increases in regional brain glucocorticoid: A novel effect of chronic alcohol

H. J. Little*, A. P. Croft, M. J. O'Callaghan, S. P. Brooks, G. Wang, S. G. Shaw

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)


The hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis shows functional changes in alcoholics, with raised glucocorticoid release during alcohol intake and during the initial phase of alcohol withdrawal. Raised glucocorticoid concentrations are known to cause neuronal damage after withdrawal from chronic alcohol consumption and in other conditions. The hypothesis for these studies was that chronic alcohol treatment would have differential effects on corticosterone concentrations in plasma and in brain regions. Effects of chronic alcohol and withdrawal on regional brain corticosterone concentrations were examined using a range of standard chronic alcohol treatments in two strains of mice and in rats. Corticosterone was measured by radioimmunoassay and the identity of the corticosterone extracted from brain was verified by high performance liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry. Withdrawal from long term (3 weeks to 8 months) alcohol consumption induced prolonged increases in glucocorticoid concentrations in specific regions of rodent brain, while plasma concentrations remained unchanged. This effect was seen after alcohol administration via drinking fluid or by liquid diet, in both mice and rats and in both genders. Shorter alcohol treatments did not show the selective effect on brain glucocorticoid levels. During the alcohol consumption the regional brain corticosterone concentrations paralleled the plasma concentrations. Type II glucocorticoid receptor availability in prefrontal cortex was decreased after withdrawal from chronic alcohol consumption and nuclear localization of glucocorticoid receptors was increased, a pattern that would be predicted from enhanced glucocorticoid type II receptor activation. This novel observation of prolonged selective increases in brain glucocorticoid activity could explain important consequences of long term alcohol consumption, including memory loss, dependence and lack of hypothalamo-pituitary responsiveness. Local changes in brain glucocorticoid levels may also need to be considered in the genesis of other mental disorders and could form a potential new therapeutic target.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1017-1027
Number of pages11
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 28 Oct 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • alcohol
  • corticosterone
  • glucocorticoid
  • withdrawal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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