Glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) is an endogenous protector in the mesolimbic system against excessive alcohol consumption and relapse

Segev Barak, Jun Wang, Somayeh Ahmadiantehrani, Sami Ben Hamida, Adrian P. Kells, John Forsayeth, Krystof S. Bankiewicz, Dorit Ron*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Moderate social consumption of alcohol is common; however, only a small percentage of individuals transit from social to excessive, uncontrolled alcohol drinking. This suggests the existence of protective mechanisms that prevent the development of alcohol addiction. Here, we tested the hypothesis that the glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) in the mesolimbic system [e.g. the nucleus accumbens (Acb) and ventral tegmental area (VTA)] is part of such a mechanism. We found that GDNF knockdown, by infecting rat Acb neurons with a small hairpin RNA (shRNA) targeting the GDNF gene, produced a rapid escalation to excessive alcohol consumption and enhanced relapse to alcohol drinking. Conversely, viral-mediated overexpression of the growth factor in the mesolimbic system blocked the escalation from moderate to excessive alcohol drinking. To access the mechanism underlying GDNF's actions, we measured the firing rate of dopaminergic (DAergic) neurons in the VTA after a history of excessive alcohol intake with or without elevating GDNF levels. We found that the spontaneous firing rate of DAergic neurons in the VTA was reduced during alcohol withdrawal and that GDNF reversed this alcohol-induced DA deficiency. Together, our results suggest that endogenous GDNF in the mesolimbic system controls the transition from moderate to excessive alcohol drinking and relapse via reversal of alcohol-dependent neuro-adaptations in DAergic VTA neurons. The development of excessive, uncontrolled alcohol consumption is limited to a small percentage of individuals, suggesting that endogenous mechanisms may prevent alcohol addiction. We tested whether GDNF, a potent inhibitor of alcohol drinking and relapse, comprises one such mechanism. We found that perturbations in endogenous mesolimbic GDNF levels were negatively correlated with the amount of alcohol consumption. GDNF also reversed the long-term suppressive effects of alcohol on dopaminergic activity, indicating that endogenous GDNF gates excessive drinking by alleviating alcohol-induced neuroadaptations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)626-642
Number of pages17
JournalAddiction Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2015


  • Alcohol addiction
  • GDNF
  • dopamine
  • nucleus accumbens
  • relapse
  • ventral tegmental area


Dive into the research topics of 'Glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) is an endogenous protector in the mesolimbic system against excessive alcohol consumption and relapse'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this