Early gestational exposure to moderate concentrations of ethanol alters adult behaviour in C57BL/6J mice

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Alcohol consumption during pregnancy has deleterious effects on the developing foetus ranging from subtle physical deficits to severe behavioural abnormalities and is encompassed under a broad umbrella term, foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). High levels of exposure show distinct effects, whereas the consequences of moderate exposures have been less well studied. The aim of this study was to examine the effects of a moderate dose ethanol exposure using an ad libitum drinking procedure during the first eight days of gestation in mice on the behavioural phenotype of adult offspring. Adult female C57Bl/6J mice were mated and exposed to either 10% (v/v) ethanol or water for the first 8 days of gestation (GD 0–8), and then offered water for the rest of gestation. Early developmental milestone achievement was assessed in offspring at postnatal days (P) 7, 14 and 21. Adult offspring underwent a comprehensive battery of behavioural tests to examine a range of behavioural domains including locomotion, exploration, anxiety, social behaviour, learned helplessness, sensorimotor gating, and nociception, as well as spatial memory in a water maze. Ethanol-exposed mice had similar postnatal developmental trajectories to water-exposed mice. However, the ethanol-exposed mice showed increased hyperlocomotion at P 14, 21 and 70 (p < 0.05). Increased exploration and heightened motivation were also observed in adult mice. Furthermore, ethanol-exposed mice showed a significant improvement in memory in the water maze. The main findings were that mice had persistent and long lasting alterations in behaviour, including hyperactivity and enhanced spatial memory. These data suggest that even moderate dose ethanol exposure in early gestation has long term consequences on brain function and behaviour in mice.

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