Z.H. Gursky, L.M. Savage, A.Y. Klintsova, Executive functioning-specific behavioral impairments in a rat model of human third trimester binge drinking implicate prefrontal-thalamo-hippocampal circuitry in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, Behavioural Brain Research, 2021,113208, ISSN 0166-4328, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2021.113208.
Individuals diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) often display behavioral impairments in executive functioning (EF). Specifically, the domains of working memory, inhibition, and set shifting are frequently impacted by prenatal alcohol exposure. Coordination between prefrontal cortex and hippocampus appear to be essential for these domains of executive functioning.
The current study uses a rodent model of human third-trimester binge drinking to identify the extent of persistent executive functioning deficits following developmental alcohol by using a behavioral battery of hippocampus- and prefrontal cortex-dependent behavioral assays in adulthood. Alcohol added to milk formula was administered to Long Evans rat pups on postnatal days 4-9 (5.25 g/kg/day of ethanol; intragastric intubation), a period when rodent brain development undergoes comparable processes to human third-trimester neurodevelopment. Procedural control animals underwent sham intubation, without administration of any liquids (i.e., alcohol, milk solution).
In adulthood, male rats were run on a battery of behavioral assays: novel object recognition, object-in-place associative memory, spontaneous alternation, and behavioral flexibility tasks. Alcohol-exposed rats demonstrated behavioral impairment in object-in-place preference and performed worse when the rule was switched on a plus maze task. All rats showed similar levels of novel object recognition, spontaneous alternation, discrimination learning, and reversal learning, suggesting alcohol-induced behavioral alterations are selective to executive functioning domains of spatial working memory and set-shifting in this widely-utilized rodent model.
These specific behavioral alterations support the hypothesis that behavioral impairments in EF following prenatal alcohol exposure are caused by distributed damage to the prefrontal-thalamo-hippocampal circuit consisting of the medial prefrontal cortex, thalamic nucleus reuniens, and CA1 of hippocampus.