Low doses of prenatal ethanol exposure and maternal separation alter HPA axis function and ethanol consumption in adult male rats

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Adverse maternal behaviors during pregnancy and unfavorable postnatal experiences during development are associated with an increased risk of developing psychiatric disorders, as well as, a vulnerability to alcohol addiction in adulthood. Here, we examined the effects of combined ethanol exposure during late pregnancy and postnatal maternal separation (MS) on HPA responsiveness, anxiety behavior and preference for alcohol consumption in adult male rats. Animals exposed to both conditions revealed a decrease in blood levels of allopregnanolone accompanied by increased anxiety behavior. In addition, basal blood levels of corticosterone were markedly decreased in all experimental groups while increases in the foot-shock-induced corticosterone levels were more pronounced in MS animals. Finally, evaluating EtOH drinking behavior, MS animals exhibited a remarkable EtOH preference even at low doses (0.1–1%). Altogether, these data suggest that adverse conditions, alone or in combination, may alter anxiety–like states as well as modify behavior towards alcohol consumption.HighlightsPerinatal stress affects anxiety and preference for alcohol intake in rats.Decrease in AP blood levels are accompanied with an increased anxiety behavior.Blood level of CTS were strongly decreased in rats exposed to perinatal stress.Foot-shock-induced CTS increase was more pronounced in MS animals.MS animals revealed a remarkable EtOH preference even at low doses (0.1–1%).

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