Consequences of In Utero Exposure to Alcohol

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In utero exposure to alcohol results in fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), which encompasses a range of developmental disorders. The prevalence of FASD has been estimated to impact approximately 1% of children in the U.S. which is nearly 40,000 newborns each year, and these individuals are at a greater risk for cognitive dysfunction, dementia, and seizures. The goal of our study is to determine the influence of in utero exposure to alcohol on behavior in adolescent and adult rats. Pregnant rats were fed an alcohol diet (3% alcohol) throughout their gestational period or control diet (no alcohol). Pups were weaned and pair-housed within sex and treatment groups, under reverse 12 hour light 12-hour dark cycle (lights off at 10 am) and allowed to reach 4 weeks of age prior to behavioral testing. Cognitive and social behavior was evaluated using a Novel Object Recognition task, a Spatial T-maze test and by a Social Interaction/Avoidance test. Behavioral tests were conducted across one week per cohort, with at least 2 days between each test. Rats were returned to their home cages in between tests. Upon completion of adolescent testing, each pair was allowed to reach adulthood undisturbed, before repeating the tests at 14 weeks of age. Female rats were examined once daily to determine their stage of estrous to account for cycle/sex differences in behavior. Preliminary results suggest that rats exposed to alcohol in utero have significant impairment in novel object recognition. Both spatial memory and social interaction tests suggest sex differences in behavioral impairment. Taken together, rats exposed to in utero alcohol exhibit behavioral deficits indicative of impairments found in children affected by FASD, which can be used to further explore the relationships between physiology and cognitive dysfunction.

First Advisor

William Mayhan

Second Advisor

Jamie Scholl

Research Area

Basic Biomedical Science

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