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Fetal Alcohol Exposure Affects Infant Response to Alcohol

Alcohol may induce changes in developing olfactory system in rat model

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Rats exposed to alcohol in utero demonstrate an increased affinity for alcohol as infants that may be mediated by the effect of ethanol on the developing olfactory system, according to two articles published in Behavioral Neuroscience in December.

Steven L. Youngentob, of SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, N.Y., and colleagues examined whether fetal alcohol exposure enhances ethanol intake of rats. The researchers fed pregnant rats an ethanol-based diet and measured voluntary ethanol intake of the offspring compared to the offspring of rats fed a caloric-matched liquid diet and those fed an ad lib chow diet. As infants, alcohol-exposed rats consumed more ethanol than controls, but this effect was absent in adulthood.

In a second study, the same researchers examined whether prenatal alcohol exposure affected rats' behavioral and neurophysiological responses to ethanol odor. Using the same method of alcohol exposure, the investigators found that rats exposed to alcohol in utero exhibited altered behavioral responses to ethanol odor as infants, though the effect was absent in adulthood. Furthermore, exposed rats had altered neurophysiological responses of the olfactory epithelium to ethanol odor.

"These data provide evidence for an important relationship between prenatal ethanol experience and postnatal behavioral responsiveness to the drug that is modulated or determined by olfactory function," write the authors. "That ethanol's effect on the neural modality predicted the behavioral response to ethanol odor and that these effects paralleled ethanol intake patterns under identical fetal exposure conditions suggest these processes are intimately related."

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