Choline Supplementation Mitigates Trace, But Not Delay, Eyeblink Conditioning Deficits in Rats Exposed to Alcohol During Development

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Abstract

Children exposed to alcohol prenatally suffer from a range of physical, neuropathological, and behavioral alterations, referred to as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). Both the cerebellum and hippocampus are affected by alcohol exposure during development, which may contribute to behavioral and cognitive deficits observed in children with FASD. Despite the known neuropathology associated with prenatal alcohol exposure, many pregnant women continue to drink (heavy drinkers, in particular), creating a need to identify effective treatments for their children who are adversely affected by alcohol. We previously reported that choline supplementation can mitigate alcohol's effects on cognitive development, specifically on tasks which depend on the functional integrity of the hippocampus. The present study examined whether choline supplementation could differentially mitigate alcohol's effects on trace eyeblink classical conditioning (ECC, a hippocampal-dependent task) and delay ECC (a cerebellar-dependent task). Long-Evans rats were exposed to 5.25 g/kg/day alcohol via gastric intubation from postnatal days (PD) 4–9, a period of brain development equivalent to late gestation in humans. A sham-intubated control group was included. From PD 10–30, subjects received subcutaneous injections of 100 mg/kg choline chloride or vehicle. Beginning on PD 32–34, subjects were trained on either delay or trace eyeblink conditioning. Performance of subjects exposed to alcohol was significantly impaired on both tasks, as indicated by significant reductions in percentage and amplitude of conditioned eyeblink responses, an effect that was attenuated by choline supplementation on the trace, but not delay conditioning task. Indeed, alcohol-exposed subjects treated with choline performed at control levels on the trace eyeblink conditioning task. There were no significant main or interactive effects of sex. These data indicate that choline supplementation can significantly reduce the severity of trace eyeblink conditioning deficits associated with early alcohol exposure, even when administered after the alcohol insult is complete. These findings have important implications for the treatment of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

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