Developmental and behavioral consequences of early life maternal separation stress in a mouse model of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder

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Abstract

Prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) can result in fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), characterized by developmental disability. As children with FASD are often raised in suboptimal conditions, we have investigated the combination of PAE via maternal preference consumption of 10% ethanol in water with early life stress (ELS) via daily 3 h maternal separation and isolation. Our results focus on development and behavioral features, including activity, anxiety-like behavior, as well as learning and memory. PAE influenced the number of pups surviving to postnatal day 2 and 70, with fewer surviving pups associated with the severity of ethanol exposure. PAE and ELS both had effects on pup weight at postnatal day 21, with amount of ethanol exposure positively correlating with pup weight. We found females were more active than males in a novel open field environment, but not following PAE. In addition, PAE resulted in overall increased exploratory behavior in the open field. Further, PAE and ELS both resulted in overnight hypoactivity in a home cage environment, as well as learning deficits that were influenced by sex in the Barnes Maze for learning and memory. These results are attributed to environmental interactions involving PAE and ELS.

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