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Brain Res. 2011 Sep 15;1412:88-101. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2011.07.027. Epub 2011 Jul 21.

Neonatal alcohol exposure disrupts hippocampal neurogenesis and contextual fear conditioning in adult rats.

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  • 1Psychology Department, University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19716, USA.


Developmental alcohol exposure can permanently alter brain structures and produce functional impairments in many aspects of behavior, including learning and memory. This study evaluates the effect of neonatal alcohol exposure on adult neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus and the implications of such exposure for hippocampus-dependent contextual fear conditioning. Alcohol-exposed rats (AE) received 5.25g/kg/day of alcohol on postnatal days (PD) 4-9 (third trimester in humans), in a binge-like manner. Two control groups were included: sham-intubated (SI) and suckle-control (SC). Animals were housed in social cages (3/cage) after weaning. On PD80, animals were injected with 200mg/kg BrdU. Half of the animals were sacrificed 2h later. The remainder were sacrificed on PD114 to evaluate cell survival; separate AE, SI, and SC rats not injected with BrdU were tested for the context preexposure facilitation effect (CPFE; ~PD117). There was no difference in the number of BrdU+ cells in AE, SI and SC groups on PD80. On PD114, cell survival was significantly decreased in AE rats, demonstrating that developmental alcohol exposure damages new cells' ability to incorporate into the network and survive. Behaviorally tested SC and SI groups preexposed to the training context 24h prior to receiving a 1.5mA 2s footshock froze significantly more during the context test than their counterparts preexposed to an alternate context. AE rats failed to show the CPFE. The current study shows the detrimental, long-lasting effects of developmental alcohol exposure on hippocampal adult neurogenesis and contextual fear conditioning.

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