Long-Term Consequences of Developmental Alcohol Exposure on Brain Structure and Function: Therapeutic Benefits of Physical Activity
Ethanol has been reported to disrupt spatial learning and memory in adolescent male rats. The present study was undertaken to determine the effects of ethanol on the acquisition of spatial memory in adolescent female rats. Adolescent female rats were subjected to repeated ethanol or saline treatments, and spatial learning was tested in the Morris water maze. For comparison, adult female rats were subjected to similar ethanol treatment and behavioral assessments as for adolescent rats. Ethanol-treated adolescent rats took longer and swam greater distances to find the hidden platform than saline controls. In the probe trial, ethanol-treated adolescent rats showed a trend towards reduced time spent in the target quadrant, and made significantly fewer target location crossings than saline-treated controls. Adult saline-treated control rats did not learn the spatial memory task as well as the adolescent saline-treated rats. Although ethanol in adult rats increased both latency and swim distance to find the platform, in the probe trial there was no difference between ethanol-treated adult rats and age-matched saline controls. Ethanol did not alter swim speed or performance in the cued visual task at either age. Together, these data suggest that ethanol specifically impairs the acquisition of spatial memory in adolescent female rats. Since adult females did not learn the task, ethanol-induced alterations in water maze performance may not reflect true learning and memory dysfunction.