Glutamatergic and GABAergic transmission undergo significant changes during adolescence. Receptors for both of these transmitters (NMDAR, and GABAA) are known to be key targets for the acute effects of ethanol in adults. The current study set out to investigate the acute effects of ethanol on both NMDAR-mediated excitatory transmission and GABAergic inhibitory transmission within the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) across age. The BNST is an area of the brain implicated in the negative reinforcing properties associated with alcohol dependence, and the BNST plays a critical role in stress-induced relapse. Therefore, assessing the developmental regulation of ethanol sensitivity in this key brain region is important to understanding the progression of ethanol dependence. To do this, whole-cell recordings of isolated NMDAR-evoked excitatory postsynaptic currents (eEPSCs) or evoked GABAergic inhibitory postsynaptic currents (eIPSCs) were performed on BNST neurons in slices from 4- or 8-week-old male C57BL/6J mice. Ethanol (50 mm) produced greater inhibition of NMDAR-eEPSCs in adolescent mice than in adult mice. This enhanced sensitivity in adolescence was not a result of shifts in function of the GluN2B subunit of the NMDAR, measured by Ro25-6981 inhibition and decay kinetics measured across age. Adolescent mice also exhibited greater ethanol sensitivity of GABAergic transmission, as ethanol (50 mm) enhanced eIPSCs in the BNST of adolescent but not adult mice. Collectively, this work illustrates that a moderate dose of ethanol produces greater inhibition of transmission in the BNST (through greater excitatory inhibition and enhancement of inhibitory transmission) in adolescents compared to adults. Given the role of the BNST in alcohol dependence, these developmental changes in acute ethanol sensitivity could accelerate neuroadaptations that result from chronic ethanol use during the critical period of adolescence.
Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.