Choline supplementation attenuates learning deficits associated with neonatal alcohol exposure in the rat: effects of varying the timing of choline administration

Brain Res. 2008 Oct 27;1237:91-100. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2008.08.048. Epub 2008 Aug 28.


Despite the harmful effects of fetal alcohol exposure, some pregnant women continue to drink alcohol. Thus, it is imperative to pursue safe, effective treatments for children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Using an animal model, our laboratory has demonstrated that choline, an essential nutrient, effectively reduces the severity of some fetal alcohol effects, even when administered after the ethanol insult is complete. The present study investigated whether there is a critical developmental period when choline is most effective in attenuating ethanol's teratogenic effects. Sprague-Dawley rats were exposed to 5.25 g/kg/day ethanol during the third trimester equivalent brain growth spurt (postnatal days (PD) 4-9) via intubation. A non-intubation control group and a sham intubation control group were included. Following ethanol exposure, pups received subcutaneous injections of saline vehicle or choline chloride (100 mg/kg/day) from PD 11-20, PD 21-30, or PD 11-30. Beginning on PD 45, subjects were tested on a Morris water maze spatial learning task. Performance of both the ethanol-exposed group that did not receive choline and the ethanol-exposed group treated with choline from PD 21-30 was significantly impaired compared to controls during acquisition of the Morris water maze task. Performance of ethanol-exposed groups treated with choline from PD 11-20 or PD 11-30 was intermediate, not differing significantly from any other groups. However, during the probe trial, ethanol exposure produced significant deficits in spatial memory which were mitigated by all choline treatments, regardless of the timing of administration. These findings suggest that choline's therapeutic window may be very large, or spans across the two developmental periods examined in this study. Importantly, these findings indicate that choline supplementation may effectively reduce some alcohol-related learning impairments, even when administered in later childhood.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Alcohols / adverse effects*
  • Alcohols / blood
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Body Weight / drug effects
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Choline / administration & dosage*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Female
  • Learning Disabilities / blood
  • Learning Disabilities / diet therapy*
  • Learning Disabilities / etiology*
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / drug effects
  • Nootropic Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Rats
  • Sex Factors
  • Time Factors


  • Alcohols
  • Nootropic Agents
  • Choline