Long-lasting mechanical hypersensitivity and CRF receptor type-1 neuron activation in the BNST following adolescent ethanol exposure

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Alcohol: Clinical and Experimental Research


Background: Adolescent alcohol use can produce long-lasting alterations in brain function, potentially leading to adverse health outcomes in adulthood. Emerging evidence suggests that chronic alcohol use can increase pain sensitivity or exacerbate existing pain conditions, but the potential neural mechanisms underlying these effects require further investigation. Here, we evaluate the impact of chronic ethanol vapor on mechanical sensitivity over the course of acute and protracted withdrawal in adolescent and adult male and female mice, and its potential association with alterations in corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) signaling within the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST). Methods: Adolescent and adult male and female mice underwent intermittent ethanol vapor exposure on 4 days/week for 2 weeks. Mechanical thresholds were evaluated 5 h and 7, 14, 21, and 28 d after cessation of ethanol exposure using the von Frey test. For mice with a history of adolescent ethanol exposure, brains were collected for in situ RNAscope processing after the final test. Messenger RNA expression of c-Fos, Crfr1, and Crf in the BNST subregions was examined. Results: Exposure to intermittent ethanol vapor induced persistent mechanical hypersensitivity during withdrawal in both adolescent and adult mice. Notably, the effect was more transient in mice exposed to ethanol during adulthood, resolving by day 28 after ethanol exposure. Furthermore, both male and female mice with a history of adolescent ethanol exposure exhibited increased activation of CRF receptor type 1 (CRFR1) neurons within the dorsolateral BNST. Conclusions: Our results support the conclusion that intermittent ethanol exposure can induce mechanical hypersensitivity, potentially through the activation of BNST CRFR1 neurons. These findings provide a basis for future studies aimed at evaluating specific subpopulations of BNST neurons and their contribution to pain in individuals with a history of alcohol use.