Acupuncture attenuates alcohol dependence through activation of endorphinergic input to the nucleus accumbens from the arcuate nucleus

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Science Advances  04 Sep 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 9, eaax1342
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax1342


A withdrawal-associated impairment in β-endorphin neurotransmission in the arcuate nucleus (ARC) of the hypothalamus is associated with alcohol dependence characterized by a chronic relapsing disorder. Although acupuncture activates β-endorphin neurons in the ARC projecting to the nucleus accumbens (NAc), a role for ARC β-endorphin neurons in alcohol dependence and acupuncture effects has not been examined. Here, we show that acupuncture at Shenmen (HT7) points attenuates behavioral manifestation of alcohol dependence by activating endorphinergic input to the NAc from the ARC. Acupuncture attenuated ethanol withdrawal tremor, anxiety-like behaviors, and ethanol self-administration in ethanol-dependent rats, which are mimicked by local injection of β-endorphin into the NAc. Acupuncture also reversed the decreased β-endorphin levels in the NAc and a reduction of neuronal activity in the ARC during ethanol withdrawal. These results suggest that acupuncture may provide a novel, potential treatment strategy for alcohol use disorder by direct activation of the brain pathway.

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