Cognitive impairments, uncontrolled drinking, and neuropathological cortical changes characterize alcohol use disorder. Dysfunction of the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), a critical cortical subregion that controls learning, decision-making, and prediction of reward outcomes, contributes to executive cognitive function deficits in alcoholic individuals. Electrophysiological and quantitative synaptomics techniques were used to test the hypothesis that heavy drinking produces neuroadaptations in the macaque OFC. Integrative bioinformatics and reverse genetic approaches were used to identify and validate synaptic proteins with novel links to heavy drinking in BXD mice. In drinking monkeys, evoked firing of OFC pyramidal neurons was reduced, whereas the amplitude and frequency of postsynaptic currents were enhanced compared with controls. Bath application of alcohol reduced evoked firing in neurons from control monkeys, but not drinking monkeys. Profiling of the OFC synaptome identified alcohol-sensitive proteins that control glutamate release (e.g., SV2A, synaptogyrin-1) and postsynaptic signaling (e.g., GluA1, PRRT2) with no changes in synaptic GABAergic proteins. Western blot analysis confirmed the increase in GluA1 expression in drinking monkeys. An exploratory analysis of the OFC synaptome found cross-species genetic links to alcohol intake in discrete proteins (e.g., C2CD2L, DIRAS2) that discriminated between low- and heavy-drinking monkeys. Validation studies revealed that BXD mouse strains with the D allele at the C2cd2l interval drank less alcohol than B allele strains. Thus, by profiling of the OFC synaptome, we identified changes in proteins controlling glutamate release and postsynaptic signaling and discovered several proteins related to heavy drinking that have potential as novel targets for treating alcohol use disorder.
SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Clinical research identified cognitive deficits in alcoholic individuals as a risk factor for relapse, and alcoholic individuals display deficits on cognitive tasks that are dependent upon the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). To identify neurobiological mechanisms that underpin OFC dysfunction, this study used electrophysiology and integrative synaptomics in a translational nonhuman primate model of heavy alcohol consumption. We found adaptations in synaptic proteins that control glutamatergic signaling in chronically drinking monkeys. Our functional genomic exploratory analyses identified proteins with genetic links to alcohol and cocaine intake across mice, monkeys, and humans. Future work is necessary to determine whether targeting these novel targets reduces excessive and harmful levels of alcohol drinking.