Amelioration of fetal alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorders in rats: exploring pharmacological and environmental treatments

Neurotoxicol Teratol. Jan-Feb 2000;22(1):103-11. doi: 10.1016/s0892-0362(99)00050-1.


Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorders (ARNDs) in children are characterized by life-long compromises in learning, memory, and adaptive responses. Until the advent of effective prevention measures, it will remain necessary to seek ways to treat the life-long neurobehavioral consequences of prenatal alcohol exposure. To date, there are no clinical remedies to recommend for either specific or global fetal alcohol effects. This article reviews our basic research in animal models that assesses the potential of global environmental manipulations or specific psychopharmacological treatments to ameliorate the neurobehavioral effects of prenatal exposure to alcohol. Postweaning environmental enrichment can improve behavioral performance and ameliorate or even eliminate deficits in prenatal alcohol-exposed rats, although there is persistent impairment in neuronal plasticity, as indicated by the failure of hippocampal pyramidal cells to increase dendrite spine density. Behavioral and neural responses to CNS stimulants differ in rats exposed prenatally to alcohol, although it is not clear that these shifts in dose-response curves would predict benefit to children. Although the present results may sound a note of optimism for the development of effective treatment strategies for children with FAS or ARNDs, it is important to consider that application of these findings in rodents may not be straightforward. We also need to know the critical features of specific environments that influence brain development, and the limits of pharmacotherapy, as well as critical periods of exposure. Continued study of the beneficial, ameliorative effects of environmental enrichment, rehabilitative training, and of pharmacological therapies in animal models, will remain a valuable source of information for eventually devising treatments specific for children with FAS and ARNDs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Child
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Environment
  • Female
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / drug therapy
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / psychology
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / therapy*
  • Hippocampus / drug effects
  • Hippocampus / pathology
  • Humans
  • Neuronal Plasticity
  • Pregnancy
  • Psychopharmacology
  • Rats