Long-term alcohol exposure gives rise to development of physical dependence on alcohol in consequence of changes in certain neurotransmitter functions. Accumulating evidence suggests that the glutamatergic neurotransmitter system, especially the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) type of glutamate receptors is a particularly important site of ethanols action, since ethanol is a potent inhibitor of the NMDA receptors (NMDARs) and prolonged ethanol exposition leads to a compensatory "upregulation" of NMDAR mediated functions supposedly contributing to the occurrence of ethanol tolerance, dependence as well as the acute and delayed signs of ethanol withdrawal. Recently, expression of different types of NMDAR subunits was found altered after long-term ethanol exposure. Especially, the expression of the NR2B and certain splice variant forms of the NR1 subunits were increased in primary neuronal cultures treated intermittently with ethanol. Since NMDA ion channels with such an altered subunit composition have increased permeability for calcium ions, increased agonist sensitivity, and relatively slow closing kinetics, the abovementioned alterations may underlie the enhanced NMDAR activation observed after long-term ethanol exposure. In accordance with these changes, the inhibitory potential of NR2B subunit-selective NMDAR antagonists is also increased, demonstrating excellent potency against alcohol withdrawal-induced in vitro cytotoxicity. Although in vivo data are few with these compounds, according to the effectiveness of the classic NMDAR antagonists in attenuation, not only the physical symptoms,but also some affective and motivational components of alcohol withdrawal, novel NR2B subunit selective NMDAR antagonists may offer a preferable alternative in the pharmacotherapy of alcohol dependence.
alcohol, dependence, withdrawal, nmda receptor, nrb subunit selective antagonist, pharmacotherapy
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