Prevention of the pro-aggressive effects of alcohol in rats and squirrel monkeys by benzodiazepine receptor antagonists

Elise M. Weerts, Walter Tornatzky, Klaus A. Miczek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Pharmacological manipulations at the benzodiazepine-GABAA-chloride ionophore receptor complex modify some of the behavioral and physiological actions of alcohol (ethanol). The interactions between alcohol, benzodiazepines and aggression were examined in similar ethopharmacological studies in squirrel monkeys and in rats in confrontations with conspecifics. Dominant male squirrel monkeys were tested (1) within their social groups, and (2) in dyadic confrontations with "rival" males from a different social group, and resident male rats were tested in their home cage in confrontations with an inexperienced male intruder. Low doses of alcohol (0.1-0.3 g/kg) increased aggressive behaviors in dominant squirrel monkeys and a subgroup of resident rats, whereas high doses of alcohol (1-3 g/kg) decreased aggression and produced marked motor incoordination. Individuals that showed alcohol-enhanced aggression were selected, and pretreated with benzodiazepine antagonists (flumazenil, ZK 93426) prior to alcohol administration. Both ZK 93426 (3 mg/kg) and flumazenil (10 mg/kg) blocked the aggression-enhancing effects of alcohol in dominant squirrel monkeys and resident rats in confrontations with conspecifics. Neither compound altered the reductions in aggression and increases in inactivity produced by high doses of alcohol. Interestingly, agonist-like increased feeding and inverse agonist-like reductions in social behaviors were observed simultaneously at the same dose of flumazenil, in the same individual and testing situation. ZK 93426 did not alter feeding but also reduced social behaviors. The two antagonists were also not equipotent in their interactions with alcohol. ZK 93426 reduced alcohol-induced motor incoordination in squirrel monkeys, whereas flumazenil did not. In fact, flumazenil potentiated the effects of low doses of alcohol. Locomotion was reduced, while staggering and time spent sitting were increased in squirrel monkeys pretreated with flumazenil plus low to moderate alcohol doses that previously did not produce these effects when administered alone. The blockade of the motor-incoordinating effects of alcohol may depend on inverse agonist activities of the antagonist acting at the GABAA-benzodiazepine receptor coupled chloride channel.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)144-152
Number of pages9
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1993
Externally publishedYes


  • Aggression
  • Alcohol
  • Anxiolytics
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Feeding
  • Motor behavior
  • Primates
  • Ro 15-1788
  • Social behavior
  • Squirrel monkeys

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology


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