Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Pharmaceutical Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Kimberly Nixon

Second Advisor

Dr. James Pauly


Chronic ethanol exposure results in neuroadaptations that drive the progression of an alcohol use disorder (AUD). One such driving force is alcohol-induced neurodegeneration. Neuroinflammation has been proposed as a mechanism underlying this damage. Although neuroinflammation is a physiological response to damage, overactivation of its pathways can lead to neurodegeneration. A hallmark indicator of neuroinflammation is microglial activation, but microglial activation is a heterogeneous continuum of phenotypes that can promote or inhibit neuroinflammation. Furthermore acute microglial activation is necessary to restore homeostasis, but prolonged activation can exacerbate damage. The diversity of microglia makes both the level and timecourse of activation vital to understanding their role in damage and/or recovery. The current set of experiments examines the effects of ethanol on microglia within the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex in a binge model of alcohol-induced neurodegeneration. In the first set of experiments, the phenotype of microglia activation was assessed using Raivich’s 5-stages of activation that separates pro- and anti-inflammatory forms of microglia. Morphological and functional assessments suggest that ethanol does not elicit classical microglial activation but instead induces partially activated microglia. In the second set of experiments, the earliest signs of microglial activation were determined to understand the initiation of microglial activation. Experiments indicated that activation occurred subsequent to previous evidence of neuronal damage; however, activation was accompanied by a loss of microglia and the discovery of dystrophic microglia. The final set of experiments examined whether alcohol-induced partial activation of microglia would show a differential response with further alcohol exposure. Experiments showed that animals previously exposed to ethanol showed a greater response to a second ethanol insult. Overall, these studies suggest that although alcohol may initially interrupt the normal microglia response, during abstinence from ethanol a partial activation phenotype appears that may contribute to recovery. Once activated, however, data suggest that these microglia are primed and upon subsequent exposure show an increased response. This heterogeneous microglial response with respect to time does not necessarily reflect a neuroinflammatory response that would be neurodegenerative but does imply that chronic ethanol consumption affects the normal neuroimmune system.