Fetal and infantile alcohol-mediated associative learning in the rat

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2001 Jul;25(7):989-98.


Background: Infant rats express conditioned responses to an odor experienced prenatally as a chemosensory cue associated with moderate alcohol intoxication. This study examined postnatal intake of a chemosensory cue (cineole) that had been paired with alcohol's unconditioned effects. It also tested the interaction between prenatal association and postnatal conditioning with cineole and alcohol.

Methods: Pregnant female rats intubated with cineole were given ethanol (EtOH).25 or 4.0 hr later. Other groups received only water or water paired with ethanol. During postnatal day 15 (PD15), infant consumption of cineole solution was assessed. After the cineole drinking test, pups were intubated with EtOH or water to assess infant conditioning. On PD16, all pups were tested for mouthing to milk alone or to a milk-cineole solution.

Results: Statistical analysis confirmed fetal associative conditioning attributable to the unconditioned effects of prenatal alcohol. Fetuses given explicit pairings of cineole and alcohol ingested less cineole on PD15 than control fetuses given a 4-hr interval between cineole and alcohol. On PD16, consumption of cineole was significantly increased by prenatal exposure to cineole. Teratogenic effects of this dose of prenatal alcohol did not affect postnatal associative or nonassociative behavior.

Conclusions: Prenatal associative learning can be established through temporal contiguity between fetal chemosensory stimulation and alcohol's unconditioned properties. This associative memory survives to infancy and modulates intake patterns and behavioral reactivity to substances that were prenatally paired with alcohol intoxication.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholic Intoxication / psychology
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Association Learning / drug effects*
  • Body Weight / drug effects
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / pharmacology*
  • Conditioning, Operant / drug effects
  • Cues
  • Eating / drug effects
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / drug effects
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects
  • Rats


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Ethanol