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Norepinephrine transporter: a candidate gene for initial ethanol sensitivity in inbred long-sleep and short-sleep mice.

Haughey HM, Kaiser AL, Johnson TE, Bennett B, Sikela JM, Zahniser NR.
Department of Pharmacology, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Aurora, Colorado, USA.

BACKGROUND: Altered noradrenergic neurotransmission is associated with depression and may contribute to drug abuse and alcoholism. Differential initial sensitivity to ethanol is an important predictor of risk for future alcoholism, making the inbred long-sleep (ILS) and inbred short-sleep (ISS) mice a useful model for identifying genes that may contribute to alcoholism. METHODS: In this study, molecular biological, neurochemical, and behavioral approaches were used to test the hypothesis that the norepinephrine transporter (NET) contributes to the differences in ethanol-induced loss of righting reflex (LORR) in ILS and ISS mice. RESULTS: We used these mice to investigate the NET as a candidate gene contributing to this phenotype. The ILS and ISS mice carry different DNA haplotypes for NET, showing eight silent differences between allelic coding regions. Only the ILS haplotype is found in other mouse strains thus far sequenced. Brain regional analyses revealed that ILS mice have 30 to 50% lower [3H]NE uptake, NET binding, and NET mRNA levels than ISS mice. Maximal [3H]NE uptake and NET number were reduced, with no change in affinity, in the ILS mice. These neurobiological changes were associated with significant influences on the behavioral phenotype of these mice, as demonstrated by (1) a differential response in the duration of ethanol-induced LORR in ILS and ISS mice pretreated with a NET inhibitor and (2) increased ethanol-induced LORR in LXS recombinant inbred (RI) strains, homozygous for ILS in the NET chromosomal region (44-47 cM), compared with ISS homozygous strains. CONCLUSIONS: This is the first report to suggest that the NET gene is one of many possible genetic factors influencing ethanol sensitivity in ILS, ISS, and LXS RI mouse strains.