A Role for Prefrontal Cortical NMDA Receptors in Murine Alcohol-Heightened Aggression
Alcohol is associated with nearly half of all violent crimes committed in the United States; yet, a potential neural basis for this type of pathological aggression remains elusive. Alcohol may act on NMDA receptors (NMDARs) within cortical circuits to impede processing and to promote aggression. Here, male mice were characterized as alcohol-heightened (AHAs) or alcohol non-heightened aggressors (ANAs) during resident-intruder confrontations after self-administering 1.0 g/kg alcohol (6% w/v) or water. Alcohol produced a pathological-like pattern of aggression in AHAs; these mice shifted their bites to more vulnerable locations on the body of a submissive animal, including the anterior back and ventrum after consuming alcohol. In addition, through immunoblotting, we found that AHAs overexpressed the NMDAR GluN2D subunit in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) as compared to ANAs while the two phenotypes expressed similar levels of GluN1, GluN2A and GluN2B. After identifying several behavioral and molecular characteristics that distinguish AHAs from ANAs, we tested additional mice for their aggression following preferential antagonism of GluN2D-containing NMDARs. In these experiments, groups of AHAs and ANAs self-administered 1.0 g/kg alcohol (6% w/v) or water before receiving intraperitoneal (IP) doses of ketamine or memantine, or infusions of memantine directly into the prelimbic (PLmPFC) or infralimbic medial PFC (ILmPFC). Moderate doses of IP ketamine, IP memantine or intra-PLmPFC memantine increased aggression in AHAs, but only in the absence of alcohol. Prior alcohol intake blocked the pro-aggressive effects of ketamine or memantine. In contrast, only memantine, administered systemically or intra-PLmPFC, interacted with prior alcohol intake to escalate aggression in ANAs. Intra-ILmPFC memantine had no effect on aggression in either AHAs or ANAs. In sum, this work illustrates a potential role of GluN2D-containing NMDARs in the PLmPFC in alcohol-heightened aggression. GluN2D-containing NMDARs are highly expressed on cortical parvalbumin-containing interneurons, suggesting that, in a subset of individuals, alcohol may functionally alter signal integration within cortical microcircuits to dysregulate threat reactivity and promote aggression. This work suggests that targeting GluN2D-NMDARs may be of use in reducing the impact of alcohol-related violence in the human population.
Publisher URL: https://www.nature.com/articles/npp2017253