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Neurobiol Learn Mem. 1999 May;71(3):272-88.

Interactions between perinatal and neonatal associative learning defined by contiguous olfactory and tactile stimulation.

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Instituto de Investigación Médica Mercedes y Martín Ferreyra, C.C. 389, Córdoba, 5000, Argentina.


Tactile stimulation of the neonate, as performed by the mother during and after delivery, has been described as an effective unconditioned stimulus during early ontogeny (Leon, 1987; Ronca & Alberts, 1994). The present experiments examined the interaction between perinatal and neonatal learning determined by the explicit association between alcohol odor and vigorous body stimulation of the perinatal organism. In Experiment 1, rat fetuses were exposed to either alcohol or saline 10 min prior to cesarean delivery. The alcohol administration procedure here employed was sufficient to provide sensory contamination of the amniotic fluid but avoid fetal alcohol intoxication. Pups in the two prenatal treatments later experienced the smell of alcohol, tactile stimulation, or both stimuli explicitly paired or unpaired. Other postnatal groups were composed of pups that had no explicit experience with either experimental stimulus. Pups subjected to alcohol odor in utero displayed more overall motor activity in response to that odor than saline controls. The increased motor responses were further potentiated in pups that experienced additional postnatal alcohol odor paired with tactile stimulation. In Experiment 2, pups were exposed to alcohol in the amniotic fluid 10 or 30 min prior to birth. As previously demonstrated the memory acquired in utero appears highly dependent upon contingency between exposure to this particular scent and delivery procedures. Pups in both prenatal treatment groups were then exposed to alcohol odor paired or unpaired with tactile stimulation. Some control animals received no further experience with either stimuli. Those pups exposed to alcohol odor paired with tactile stimulation both pre- and postnatally later showed maximum motor activity elicited by the odor of alcohol. The results support the notion of fetal associative learning comprising alcohol's chemosensory cues and behaviorally activating stimuli. Furthermore, the conditioned response under analysis is potentiated whenever neonates are reexposed to contingent presentations of the elements that defined the original associative memory.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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