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Neurobiol Dis. 2004 Dec;17(3):403-14.

Apoptotic neurodegeneration induced by ethanol in neonatal mice is associated with profound learning/memory deficits in juveniles followed by progressive functional recovery in adults.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO 63110, USA.


Administration of ethanol to rodents during the synaptogenesis period induces extensive apoptotic neurodegeneration in the developing brain. This neurotoxicity may explain the reduced brain mass and neurobehavioral disturbances in human Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Here, we report binge-like exposure of infant mice to ethanol on a single postnatal day triggered apoptotic death of neurons from diencephalic structures that comprise an extended hippocampal circuit important for spatial learning and memory. The ethanol exposure paradigm yielding these neuronal losses caused profound impairments in spatial learning and memory at 1 month of age. This impairment was significantly attenuated during subsequent development, indicating recovery of function. Recovery was not associated with increased neurogenesis, suggesting plastic reorganization of neuronal networks compensated for early neuronal losses. We hypothesize that neuroapoptotic damage in homologous regions of human brain underlies cognitive deficits in FAS and the human brain of FAS victims has a similar capacity to effect functional recovery.

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