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Horm Behav. 2010 Nov;58(5):835-43. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2010.08.007. Epub 2010 Aug 22.

Prenatal alcohol exposure reduces the proportion of newly produced neurons and glia in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus in female rats.

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Department of Psychology, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.


Prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) alters adult neurogenesis and the neurogenic response to stress in male rats. As the effects of stress on neurogenesis are sexually dimorphic, the present study investigated the effects of PAE on adult hippocampal neurogenesis under both nonstressed and stressed conditions in female rats. Pregnant females were assigned to one of three prenatal treatments: (1) alcohol (PAE)-liquid alcohol (ethanol) diet ad libitum (36% ethanol-derived calories); (2) pair-fed-isocaloric liquid diet, with maltose-dextrin substituted for ethanol, in the amount consumed by a PAE partner (g/kg body wt/day of gestation); and (3) control-lab chow ad libitum. Female offspring were assigned to either nonstressed (undisturbed) or stressed (repeated restraint stress for 9 days) conditions. On day 10, all rats were injected with bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) and perfused either 24 hours (cell proliferation) or 3 weeks (cell survival) later. We found that PAE did not significantly alter cell proliferation or survival, whereas females from the pair-fed condition exhibited elevated levels of cell survival compared to control females. Importantly, however, the proportion of both new neurons and new glial cells in the hippocampal dentate gyrus was reduced in PAE compared to control females. Exposure to stress did not alter neurogenesis in any of the prenatal treatment groups. In summary, compared to females from the control condition, prenatal dietary restriction enhanced the survival of new neurons, whereas PAE altered the differentiation of newly produced cells in the adult dentate gyrus. Alterations in hippocampal neurogenesis following PAE may contribute to learning and memory deficits seen in individuals with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

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