Altered dopamine (DA) transporter densities have been implicated in mechanisms of vulnerability and relapse in human alcoholics. The regional distribution and density of the DA transporter was studied in alcohol-preferring vervet monkeys to investigate baseline status and regulation of the DA transporter at different stages of chronic alcohol drinking. Combined ligand binding and in vitro autoradiography of the cocaine congener [125I]RTI-55 (β-CIT) demonstrated a significant increase in DA transporter densities in abstinent alcohol-preferring monkeys over those in alcohol-avoiding monkeys. Chronic alcohol consumption down-regulated DA transporter densities, and this effect was reversed by acute withdrawal. These results demonstrate that the DA transporter is regulated by alcohol exposure and suggest that increased DA transporter densities may be a phenotypic marker of alcohol preference in vulnerable monkeys.
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