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Alcohol use disorder commonly occurs in patients with schizophrenia and significantly worsens the clinical course of the disorder. The neurobiological underpinnings of alcohol drinking are not well understood. Magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) has been used to assess the neurochemical substrates that may be associated with alcohol drinking in patients; however, the causal impact of these findings remains elusive, highlighting the need for studies in animal models. This study performed MRS in the neonatal ventral hippocampal lesioned (NVHL) rat model, a model of co-occurring schizophrenia and substance use disorders. NVHL lesions (or sham surgeries) were performed on post-natal day 7 and animals were given brief exposure to alcohol during adolescence (10% v/v in a 2-bottle choice design). Animals were re-exposed to alcohol during adulthood (20% v/v) until a stable drinking baseline was established, and then forced into abstinence to control for the effects of differential alcohol drinking. Animals were scanned for MRS after one month of abstinence. NVHL rats consumed significantly more alcohol than sham rats and in the cingulate cortex showed significantly higher levels of GABA and glutamine. Significantly lower GABA levels were observed in the nucleus accumbens. No differences between the NVHL and sham animals were observed in the hippocampus. Correlation analysis revealed that GABA and glutamine concentrations in the cingulate cortex significantly correlated with the rats’ alcohol drinking prior to 30 days of forced abstinence. These findings suggest that a potential dysfunction in the glutamate/GABA–glutamine cycle may contribute to alcohol drinking in a rat model of schizophrenia, and this dysfunction could be targeted in future treatment-focused studies.

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