Rationale: Adolescent intermittent ethanol exposure (AIE) produces lasting, sex-specific social anxiety-like alterations in male, but not female rats. Oxytocin (OXT) and vasopressin (AVP) brain systems play opposite roles in regulating social preference/avoidance, with OXT increasing approach to, and AVP increasing avoidance of social stimuli. Objectives: To test the hypothesis that social anxiety-like alterations seen in adult males after AIE are associated with a shift in the balance between OXT and AVP toward AVP, effectiveness of pharmacological activation of the OXT system and blockade of endogenous activity at AVP receptors for reversing AIE-induced social anxiety-like alterations was assessed, along with examination of the effects of AIE on OXT, vasopressin V1a, and V1b receptor (OXT-R, V1a-R, and V1b-R) surface expression in the hypothalamus. Methods: Sprague-Dawley male and female rats were given 4 g/kg ethanol (AIE) or water intragastrically every 48 h for a total of 11 exposures during postnatal days (P) 25–45. On P70–72, animals were given a social interaction test following administration of a selective OXT-R agonist WAY-267464, selective V1a-R antagonist SR-49059, or V1b-R antagonist SSR-149415, and hypothalamic tissue was collected. Results: Social anxiety-like behavior was induced by AIE in males but not females, and was selectively reversed by the selective OXT-R agonist and V1b-R antagonist, but not V1a-R antagonist. AIE was also found to decrease OXT-R, but increase V1b-R neuronal surface expression relative to water-exposed controls in the hypothalamus of males, but not females. Conclusions: These findings demonstrate that AIE induces changes in OXT-R and AVP-R surface expression in the hypothalamus along with social anxiety-like alterations in male rats. These social anxiety-like alterations can be reversed either by activation of the OXT system or by suppression of the AVP system, data that support the hypothesis that social anxiety-like alterations induced by adolescent alcohol exposure in male rats are associated at least in part with an OXT/AVP imbalance.
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