A limited access mouse model of prenatal alcohol exposure that produces long-lasting deficits in hippocampal-dependent learning and memory

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2012 Mar;36(3):457-66. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2011.01644.x. Epub 2011 Sep 20.


Background: It has been estimated that approximately 12% of women consume alcohol at some time during their pregnancy, and as many as 5% of children born in the United States are impacted by prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE). The range of physical, behavioral, emotional, and social dysfunctions that are associated with PAE are collectively termed fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).

Methods: Using a saccharin-sweetened ethanol solution, we developed a limited access model of PAE. C57BL/6J mice were provided access to a solution of either 10% (w/v) ethanol and 0.066% (w/v) saccharin or 0.066% (w/v) saccharin (control) for 4 h/d. After establishing consistent drinking, mice were mated and continued drinking during gestation. Following parturition, solutions were decreased to 0% in a stepwise fashion over a period of 6 days. Characterization of the model included measurements of maternal consumption patterns, blood ethanol levels, litter size, pup weight, maternal care, and the effects of PAE on fear-conditioned and spatial learning, and locomotor activity.

Results: Mothers had mean daily ethanol intake of 7.17 ± 0.17 g ethanol/kg body weight per day, with average blood ethanol concentrations of 68.5 ± 9.2 mg/dl after 2 hours of drinking and 88.3 ± 11.5 mg/dl after 4 hours of drinking. Food and water consumption, maternal weight gain, litter size, pup weight, pup retrieval times, and time on nest did not differ between the alcohol-exposed and control animals. Compared with control offspring, mice that were exposed to ethanol prenatally displayed no difference in spontaneous locomotor activity but demonstrated learning deficits in 3 hippocampal-dependent tasks: delay fear conditioning, trace fear conditioning, and the delay nonmatch to place radial-arm maze task.

Conclusions: These results indicate that this model appropriately mimics the human condition of PAE and will be a useful tool in studying the learning deficits seen in FASD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Body Weight / drug effects
  • Conditioning, Psychological / drug effects
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Ethanol / blood
  • Ethanol / toxicity*
  • Female
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / psychology*
  • Learning / drug effects*
  • Litter Size / drug effects
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior / drug effects
  • Memory / drug effects*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Motor Activity / drug effects
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / psychology*


  • Ethanol