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EFFECTS OF DEVELOPMENTAL LOW-LEVEL LEAD EXPOSURE ON VOLUNTARY ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION AND DRUG-INDUCED BEHAVIORAL SENSITIZATION IN ADULTHOOD
Lead (Pb) is one of the most harmful and most abundant neurotoxins in the environment. Despite the extensive movement made to eradicate toxic levels of Pb in the environment, children, predominately in lower socioeconomic areas, are still exposed to varying levels of Pb. Human studies suggest that Pb exposure leads to altered drug consumption in adults by altering underlying neural mechanisms, specifically dopamine (DA) activity. However, there is limited research on this at blood Pb levels below 10 μg/dL, levels often seen in children growing up in neighborhoods located in old industrial and urban areas. To model how early-life low-level Pb exposure effects DA-dependent behaviors associated with addiction in adulthood, we used C57BL/6J mice. Litters were weaned at PND 21 and assigned to either a three-week history of 30 parts per million (ppm) Lead (IV) Acetate exposure or a control condition of 0 ppm Pb in DI drinking water. After the Pb exposure period, mice were switched to regular tap water until they reached adulthood. Afterward, separate animals were tested in one of three experiments: two-bottle choice alcohol preference drinking, alcohol-induced behavioral sensitization (EBS), and cocaine-induced behavioral sensitization (CBS). In experiment 1, our hypothesis was met, and both male and female mice with a prior Pb exposure displayed significantly higher alcohol intake and preference scores over the three-week period than control mice. In experiment 2, there were no differences in EBS and no evidence of EBS in any of the groups. However, there was an increased acute response to 2.0 g/kg EtOH in the Pb-exposed chronic group as compared to the control animals. Lastly, in experiment 3, Pb-exposed animals in the chronic cocaine group were more sensitive to the effects of cocaine (10 mg/kg) across days than the controls, both the acute cocaine groups and both saline control groups. Thus, with these experiments, we concluded that low levels of developmental Pb exposure might be targeting DA in the reward pathway, which is essential for alcohol intake and drug sensitization.