Ethanol consumption activates a subset of arcuate nucleus pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC)-producing neurons: a c-fos immunohistochemistry study

Lauren E. Hood, Erin K. Nagy, Jonna M. Leyrer-Jackson, M. Foster Olive

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Ethanol activates various opioid peptide-containing circuits within the brain that may underlie its motivational and rewarding effects. One component of this circuitry consists of neurons located in the arcuate nucleus (ArcN) of the hypothalamus which express pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC), an opioid precursor peptide that is cleaved to form bioactive fragments including β-endorphin and α-melanocyte stimulating hormone. In this study, we sought to determine if ethanol intake activates ArcN POMC neurons as measured by expression of the immediate early gene c-fos. Male and female POMC-EGFP mice underwent drinking-in-the-dark (DID) procedures for 3 consecutive days (2 h/day) and were allowed to consume either ethanol (20% v/v), saccharin (0.2% w/v), or water. On the fourth day of DID procedures, animals were allowed to consume their respective solutions for 20 min, and 1 h following the session brains were harvested and processed for c-fos immunohistochemistry and co-localization with EGFP. Our results indicate that ethanol intake activates a subset (~15–20%) of ArcN POMC neurons, whereas saccharin or water intake activates significantly fewer (~5–12%) of these neurons. The percent of activated POMC neurons did not correlate with blood ethanol levels at the time of tissue collection, and activation appeared to be distributed throughout the rostrocaudal axis of the ArcN. No sex differences were observed in the degree of neuronal activation across drinking solutions. These findings indicate a preferential activation of ArcN POMC neurons by ethanol consumption, strengthening the notion that ethanol activates endogenous opioid systems in the brain which may underlie its motivational properties.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere15231
JournalPhysiological reports
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • POMC
  • arcuate nucleus
  • c-fos
  • ethanol
  • hypothalamus
  • pro-opiomelanocortin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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