The effects of acute and chronic alcohol ingestion on outcome following multiple episodes of mild traumatic brain injury in rats

Acad Emerg Med. 1999 Nov;6(11):1088-97. doi: 10.1111/j.1553-2712.1999.tb00109.x.


Objective: Recent studies suggest that in some circumstances, alcohol intoxication at the time of severe head injury may be neuroprotective. The objective of this study was to determine the effect of acute and chronic alcohol ingestion on outcome in rodents sustaining multiple episodes of mild traumatic brain injury while intoxicated.

Method: For two weeks before experimentation, adult male Sprague-Dawley rats received intoxicating levels of 95% ethanol (3 g/kg) or normal saline (NS) every other day by orogastric instillation. On the day of experimentation, the animals were randomized to receive alcohol or NS. Two hours later, the animals received either mild (1.2 +/- 0.4 ATA) fluid percussion injury (FPI) or no injury. The injured animals received a total of three episodes of FPI (once every four days). Mean reflex recovery time (RRT) was determined (seconds +/- SEM) immediately after each episode. Mean latency time (seconds +/- SEM) for Morris Water Maze (MWM) performance was assessed at post-trauma days 11-19.

Results: The chronic alcohol-exposed (CA) and the non-alcohol-exposed (NA) animals intoxicated when injured had prolonged escape, righting, and corneal RRTs after each FPI compared with the nonintoxicated injured animals and the non-injured shams. However, the CA animals had significantly shorter RRTs when compared with the NA rats. All the injured animals had MWM deficits on testing days 1-6 compared with the noninjured controls. On the last two MWM testing days, the injured NA animals had significantly better MWM performance than the injured CA rats.

Conclusions: The injured intoxicated CA animals had a more rapid recovery of reflexes compared with the injured intoxicated NA animals. Despite initial MWM deficits, the injured NA rodents eventually began to learn the MWM. The injured CA rats never learned the maze. Under the conditions of this study, acute alcohol intoxication at the time of multiple episodes of minor head trauma did not provide neuroprotection for NA or CA rodents.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / complications*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain Injuries / complications*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / drug effects*
  • Neurologic Examination
  • Neuroprotective Agents / pharmacology*
  • Probability
  • Prospective Studies
  • Random Allocation
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reference Values
  • Reflex / drug effects*


  • Neuroprotective Agents
  • Ethanol