Locci, Valentina (2017) Effect of maternal separation on ethanol drinking and acute stress: involvement of ethanol consumption during pregnancy. Doctoral Thesis.
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It is known that stressful events during gestational and postnatal period are crucial for the
development of psychopathologies in adulthood.
It is widely accepted that prenatal ethanol exposure during late pregnancy is one of the most
consisted method that leads to alcohol abuse behavior in young and/or adults later in life.
In order to evaluate the interaction between prenatal ethanol exposure and early life stress, a group
of pregnant rats (EtOH) was treated intra-gastrically with 1g/Kg of ethanol solution later in
gestation from 17 to GD 20. The offspring were then subjected to daily maternal separation (MS)
for 3hs from PND 3 until PND 15.
Since ethanol treatment and maternal separation stimulates the HPA axis response we evaluate
whether the exposure to alcohol in this delicate perinatal could affect HPA axis response to acute
foot-shock stress as well as maternal behavior, reflecting in the quality of maternal care. Our results
show that the association of the two stressors (EtOH and MS) leads to a significant decrease in the
CTS and AP plasma level. Furthermore, EtOH-MS group shows a greater acute foot-shockmediated
increase of CTS and AP plasma levels compared to EtOH-NMS group. In agreement with
this hormonal response, elevated plus maze test revealed anxiety-like behavior of the EtOH-MS
group respect to EtOH-NMS counterpart.
In addition, our data showed that prenatal ethanol treatment failed to induce changes in maternal
One goal of our study was to establish whether the association of two stressors (prenatal ethanol
treatment and early maternal separation) could lead to changes in alcohol consumption preference
in adolescent and adult male offspring. We used the Ascending Ethanol Paradigm (Martinetti et al.,
2006), that consist in giving ascending concentrations (from 0.01% to 20%) of ethanol both in
adolescence and in adulthood.
Our data show that there are no differences among the four experimental groups in terms of
preference toward ethanol consumption. However, the VEH-MS show a clear behavior preference
toward 0.1-1% range of ethanol concentrations.
Overall, these results suggest that stressful experiences during pregnancy and childhood may
change the acute stress-responsiveness of HPA axis in adult rats. Furthermore, there is not evident
interaction between pre and postnatal stress regarding the effect on drinking behavior. Furthermore,
these animals probably came out from two closely stressful events differently from adults that have
had much more time to recovery from each other. This could partially explain the lack of difference
in ethanol consumption attitude. Further studies may help to better understand some molecular
mechanisms underlying these observed differences between adult and adolescent offspring
subjected to stress early in life.
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