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Behav Brain Res. 2013 Jan 1;236(1):307-18. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2012.08.025. Epub 2012 Aug 28.

Effects of neonatal alcohol dose and exposure window on long delay and trace eyeblink conditioning in juvenile rats.

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


Classical eyeblink conditioning has been used to assess learning and memory impairments in both humans and animal model studies of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). Gestational exposure to alcohol in humans and its equivalent in rats severely impairs various eyeblink conditioning tasks, but less is known about how these effects are influenced by variables, such as the timing and dose of alcohol exposure. In a series of four experiments, we systematically examine how varying the timing and dose of alcohol exposure impact long delay and trace eyeblink conditioning in juvenile rats, tasks that both depend on a brainstem-cerebellar circuit but differ in that trace conditioning additionally recruits the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. Using a "third-trimester-equivalent" alcohol exposure model, rats were exposed to a high binge dose of alcohol at one of two alcohol doses over postnatal days (PD) 4-9 or PD 7-9, windows of exposure thought to differentially target the cerebellum and hippocampus. Sham-intubated and untreated rats served as controls. As juveniles, rats from each treatment condition were trained in either a long delay or trace eyeblink conditioning task. Alcohol-exposed rats demonstrated general conditioning impairments compared to controls during long delay conditioning, with more robust impairments in rats exposed to the higher alcohol dose (5.25 g/kg/day) than those that received the lower dose (4.66 g/kg/day). Alcohol-exposed rats showed trace conditioning impairments compared to controls only when the high dose of alcohol was administered over PD 4-9 or PD 7-9. These findings indicate significant learning and memory impairments following neonatal alcohol exposure at both PD 4-9 and PD 7-9. The pattern of impairments across delay and trace conditioning suggest that alcohol disrupts processes that are common to both tasks. These findings are consistent with studies of delay and trace eyeblink conditioning in children with FASD. Future studies of the mechanisms underlying these deficits will further our understanding of brain injury and memory impairments resulting from developmental alcohol exposure.

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