Alcohol and chronic stress exposure, especially during adolescence, can lead to an increased risk in adulthood of developing alcohol use disorders. To date, however, no study has assessed the potential long-term effects of chronic intermittent and unpredictable ethanol (EtOH) exposure in mice chronically stressed beginning in adolescence on brain function and anxiety-like behaviors in adulthood. In particular, alterations in function of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST), a brain region heavily implicated in anxiety-related behaviors and altered plasticity following EtOH exposure, may play a key role in the pathological responses to chronic stress and EtOH. In the present study, adolescent and adult C57Bl/6J mice were exposed to a regimen of chronic social isolation and unpredictable stressors and EtOH (or air [sham]; CSI-CUS-EtOH and CSI-CUS-Sham, respectively) for 8-10 weeks. In adulthood, mice were tested for altered anxiety-like behavior (elevated plus maze [EPM] and modified social interaction [SI] test). Following behavioral testing, mice were reexposed to CSI-CUS-EtOH (and CSI-CUS-Sham for controls) for an additional 3 days. Four to six hours following the final EtOH (or air) exposure, field potential recordings of the dorsal-lateral (dl)BNST were performed. Mice first exposed during adolescence to CSI-CUS-EtOH displayed lower levels of anxiety-like behavior on the EPM compared with mice first exposed to CSI-CUS-EtOH during adulthood and control mice only exposed to CSI-CUS-Sham, regardless of age of first exposure. However, mice first exposed to CSI-CUS-EtOH during adulthood displayed lower levels of anxiety-like behavior on the SI test compared with mice first exposed during adolescence and control CSI-CUS-Sham mice. CSI-CUS-EtOH exposure, regardless of age, produced blunted expression of long-term potentiation (LTP) in the dlBNST compared with CSI-CUS-Sham mice. This study demonstrates age-dependent effects of chronic unpredictable ethanol exposure in chronically stressed mice on anxiety-like behaviors during adulthood. Further, CSI-CUS-EtOH exposure results in blunted LTP expression in the adult dlBNST.
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