Impact of Caffeine on Ethanol-Induced Stimulation and Sensitization: Changes in ERK and DARPP-32 Phosphorylation in Nucleus Accumbens

Porru, Simona; López-Cruz, Laura; Carratalá‐Ros, Carla; Salamone, John D.; Acquas, Elio and Correa, Mercè (2021). Impact of Caffeine on Ethanol-Induced Stimulation and Sensitization: Changes in ERK and DARPP-32 Phosphorylation in Nucleus Accumbens. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 45(3) pp. 608–619.



Caffeine is frequently consumed with ethanol to reduce the impairing effects induced by ethanol, including psychomotor slowing or incoordination. Both drugs modulate dopamine (DA)‐related markers in accumbens (Acb), and Acb DA is involved in voluntary locomotion and locomotor sensitization. The present study determined whether caffeine can affect locomotion induced by acute and repeated ethanol administration in adult male CD‐1 mice.

Acute administration of caffeine (7.5 to 30.0 mg/kg) was evaluated for its effects on acute ethanol‐induced (1.5 to 3.5 g/kg) changes in open‐field horizontal locomotion, supported rearing, and rearing not supported by the wall. DA receptor‐dependent phosphorylation markers were assessed: extracellular signal‐regulated kinase (pERK), and dopamine‐and cAMP‐regulated phosphoprotein Mr32kDa phosphorylated at threonine 75 site (pDARPP‐32‐Thr75) in Acb core and shell. Acutely administered caffeine was also evaluated in ethanol‐sensitized (1.5 g/kg) mice.

Acute ethanol decreased both types of rearing. Caffeine increased supported rearing but did not block ethanol ‐induced decreases in rearing. Both substances increased horizontal locomotion in a biphasic manner, and caffeine potentiated ethanol‐induced locomotion. Although ethanol administered repeatedly induced sensitization of locomotion and unsupported rearing, acute administration of caffeine to ethanol‐sensitized mice in an ethanol‐free state resulted in blunted stimulant effects compared with those seen in ethanol‐naïve mice. Ethanol increased pERK immunoreactivity in both subregions of the Acb, but coadministration with caffeine blunted this increase. There were no effects on pDARPP‐32(Thr75) immunoreactivity.

The present results demonstrated that, after the first administration, caffeine potentiated the stimulating actions of ethanol, but did not counteract its suppressant or ataxic effects. Moreover, our results show that caffeine has less activating effects in ethanol‐sensitized animals.

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