Although ethanol has been repeatedly demonstrated to inhibit the hypothalamo-pituitary-testes axis by multiple mechanisms, plasma testosterone levels can be normal in alcoholics who do not exhibit severely compromised liver function and even increased in some abstinent alcoholics, suggesting that adaptive changes to chronic alcohol abuse may alter these regulatory mechanisms. To address this variability, we have investigated the effects of chronic ethanol and withdrawal on rat testosterone regulation using a well-characterized liquid diet model that we have previously demonstrated to (1) provide daily oral ethanol consumption that produces behaviorally relevant plasma ethanol levels during the active (awake) stage of the photoperiod; (2) establish physical dependence on ethanol; and (3) produce not only hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis, but also behavioral (anxiety-like behavior, response to novelty, sucrose preference) changes consistent with those of actively drinking and subsequently abstinent alcoholics. The results demonstrate that chronic daily episodes of ethanol consumption and withdrawal by male Sprague-Dawley rats decreased (p < 0.01) plasma testosterone levels late in the afternoon (by 70% relative to ad libitum-fed controls and 63% relative to pair-fed controls), but not in the morning. During gradual cessation of daily ethanol consumption, morning plasma testosterone levels increased, and this 90-115% (p < 0.05) increase was maintained for 3 d after complete cessation of ethanol consumption. Three weeks after cessation of ethanol consumption, plasma testosterone levels were again increased by approx 100% (p < 0.01). Plasma luteinizing hormone (LH) concentrations and anterior hypothalamus/preoptic area gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) mRNA levels were not altered at any of these time points. Thus, chronic daily ethanol consumption and daily withdrawal induced changes in circulating testosterone regulation that (a) were time of day dependent and (b) included adaptive changes persisting long after consumption of ethanol ceased. Accordingly, resolution of changes in testosterone regulation and their potential roles in alcohol abuse and relapse will require evaluating changes throughout the circadian cycle during, shortly after, and long after active alcohol abuse.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism