In humans, prenatal alcohol exposure can result in significant impairments in several types of learning and memory, including declarative and spatial memory. Animal models have been useful for confirming that many of the observed effects are the result of alcohol exposure, and not secondary to poor maternal nutrition or adverse home environments. Wagner and Hunt (2006) reported that rats exposed to ethanol during the neonatal period (postnatal days [PDs] 4-9) exhibited impaired trace fear conditioning when trained as adolescents, but were unaffected in delay fear conditioning. The present series of three experiments represent a more detailed analysis of ethanol-induced deficits in trace conditioning. In Experiment 1, the dose of ethanol given to neonates was varied (3.0, 4.0, or 5.0 g/kg/day). There was a dose-dependent reduction in trace conditioning, with the poorest performance observed in animals treated with the highest dose. In Experiment 2, it was found that the impairment in trace conditioning resulting from neonatal ethanol exposure was dependent on the duration of the trace interval used for training; less learning was evident in ethanol-exposed animals trained with longer trace interval durations. These results confirm other reports of delay-dependent memory deficits. Finally, Experiment 3 determined that ethanol exposure limited to the first half of the neonatal period (PDs 4-6) was more detrimental to later trace conditioning than exposure during the second half (PDs 7-9). These results support the hypothesis that trace-conditioning impairments resulting from early ethanol exposure are due to the drug's teratogenic effects on the developing hippocampus, as the findings parallel those observed in animals with discrete hippocampal lesions. Comparisons between delay and trace fear-conditioning performance in animals exposed to ethanol during the brain growth spurt provide a model system to study both selective learning impairments and possible treatment approaches for humans with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. (C) 2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Hunt, Pamela S.; Jacobson, Sarah E.; and Torok, Elena J., Deficits in trace fear conditioning in a rat model of fetal alcohol exposure: dose-response and timing effects (2009). Alcohol, 43(6), 465-474.