Several studies demonstrated the role of the endogenous opioid system in the development of susceptibility to alcohol dependence. Recently, we reported that binge intragastric administration of ethanol induces selective alterations of pronociceptin and prodynorphin gene expression in the rat amygdala complex depending on the days of exposures and on the development of tolerance and dependence. The aim of the present study was to investigate the potential epigenetic mechanisms leading to these alcohol-induced changes in gene expression. Specific histone modifications and DNA methylation at opioid peptide precursor promoters were analyzed by chromatin immunoprecipitation and real-time methylation-specific PCR, respectively. We found a linkage between gene expression alterations and epigenetic modulation at pronociceptin and prodynorphin promoters following alcohol treatment. In animals treated for 1 day, we observed a reversed correlation, with a decrease of histone 3 lysine 27 trimethylation (repressive mark) and an increase of histone 3 lysine 9 acetylation (activating mark), associated with both gene expression up-regulation. In rats treated with alcohol for up to 5 days, we found an increase in histone 3 lysine 9 acetylation in the pronociceptin promoter providing further evidence of the already proposed possible role for histone deacetylases for addiction treatment. No significant alterations in DNA methylation and histone 3 lysine 4 trimethylation following different alcohol exposures were present, suggesting the selectivity of epigenetic effects induced by alcohol. These data demonstrate that ethanol induces selective epigenetic changes, thus better defining the role of opioid peptides in the ethanol-induced effects in the amygdala complex.
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