Nest building is a novel method for indexing severity of alcohol withdrawal in mice

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Withdrawal after chronic ethanol (EtOH) affects body temperature, goal-directed behavior and motor function in mice and increases general central nervous system excitability. Nest-building tests have been used to assay these states but to this point have not been employed as measures of EtOH withdrawal severity. We first refined nest-scoring methods using a genetically heterogeneous stock of mice (HS/Npt). Mice were then made physically dependent following three days of chronic EtOH vapor inhalation to produce average blood EtOH concentrations (BECs) of 1.89 mg/mL. EtOH withdrawal affected the progression of nest building over time when mice were tested 2–4 days after removal from three days of chronic exposure to EtOH. In a separate group of mice, chronic EtOH vapor inhalation (BECs 1.84 mg/mL) suppressed nest building over days 1–2 but not days 2–3 of withdrawal. In a following experiment, EtOH withdrawal dose-dependently slowed recovery of nest building for up to 32 h. Finally, we determined that long-lasting nest-building deficits extend to mice undergoing withdrawal from a high dose (4 g/kg) of acute EtOH. Sex differences for nest building were absent following EtOH exposure. In mice naïve to EtOH treatments, male mice had lower pre-test body temperatures and increased nest scores across a two-day testing period compared to females. These results suggest that nest building can be used to assess chronic and acute EtOH withdrawal severity in mice.