Endocannabinoid signaling in the lateral habenula regulates pain and alcohol consumption

Rao Fu, Ying Tang, Wenfu Li, Zhiheng Ren, Ding Li, Jiayi Zheng, Wanhong Zuo, Xuejun Chen, Qi Kang Zuo, Kelsey L. Tam, Yucong Zou, Thomas Bachmann, Alex Bekker, Jiang Hong Ye

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Hyperalgesia, which often occurs in people suffering from alcohol use disorder, may drive excessive drinking and relapse. Emerging evidence suggests that the lateral habenula (LHb) may play a significant role in this condition. Previous research suggests that endocannabinoid signaling (eCBs) is involved in drug addiction and pain, and that the LHb contains core components of the eCBs machinery. We report here our findings in rats subjected to chronic ethanol vapor exposure. We detected a substantial increase in endocannabinoid-related genes, including Mgll and Daglb mRNA levels, as well as monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL) protein levels, as well as a decrease in Cnr1 mRNA and type-1 cannabinoid receptor (CB1R) protein levels, in the LHb of ethanol-exposed rats. Also, rats withdrawing from ethanol exposure displayed hypersensitivity to mechanical and thermal nociceptive stimuli. Conversely, intra-LHb injection of the MAGL inhibitor JZL184, the fatty acid amide hydrolase inhibitor URB597, or the CB1R agonist WIN55,212-2 produced an analgesic effect, regardless of ethanol or air exposure history, implying that alcohol exposure does not change eCB pain responses. Intra-LHb infusion of the CB1R inverse agonist rimonabant eliminated the analgesic effect of these chemicals. Rimonabant alone elicited hyperalgesia in the air-, but not ethanol-exposed animals. Moreover, intra-LHb JZL184, URB597, or WIN55,212-2 reduced ethanol consumption in both homecages and operant chambers in rats exposed to ethanol vapor but not air. These findings suggest that LHb eCBs play a pivotal role in nociception and facilitating LHb eCBs may attenuate pain in drinkers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number220
JournalTranslational psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry


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