Moderate, Long-Term, Alcohol Consumption Potentiates Normal, Age-Related Spatial Memory Deficits in Rats


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Abstract

A modified "Samson" sucrose fading procedure was used to establish voluntary consumption of a 20% ethanol (EtOH) solution in male Sprague-Dawley rats for 18 consecutive months. Intakes were stable over the life span, and corresponded to the moderate to high levels of intake typically observed in human "social" drinkers and alcoholics. The Morris Water Maze (WM), Olton Radial Arm Maze (RM), and a "balance beam" test were used to assess the effects of alcohol and aging on spatial memory and motor function. Aged EtOH-consuming rats (AGED/ALC) demonstrated impaired task acquisition, relative to aged controls (AGED), not reaching criterion performance in either spatial memory task even when given four additional days of training. AGED/ALC rats scored significantly lower on percent correct out of the first eight arm entries, and committed more perseverative errors in the RM. There were no significant performance differences between AGED and AGED/ALC rats on a balance beam test of fine motor coordination and equilibrium, suggesting that deficits observed in the RM and WM were not related to differential motor functioning. These results demonstrated that long-term, moderate, oral self-administration of EtOH, within the range typically consumed by humans, had adverse effects on spatial memory in rats, and that such a pattern of EtOH consumption seemed to exacerbate the decline in cognitive functioning associated with normal aging.

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