Altered spatial learning and delay discounting in a rat model of human third trimester binge ethanol exposure

Behav Pharmacol. 2012 Feb;23(1):54-65. doi: 10.1097/FBP.0b013e32834eb07d.


Ethanol exposure during perinatal development can cause cognitive abnormalities including difficulties in learning, attention, and memory, as well as heightened impulsivity. The purpose of this study was to assess performance in spatial learning and impulsive choice tasks in rats subjected to an intragastric intubation model of binge ethanol exposure during human third trimester-equivalent brain development. Male and female Sprague-Dawley rat pups were intubated with ethanol (5.25 g/kg/day) on postnatal days 4-9. At adolescence (between postnatal days 35-38), these rats and sham intubated within-litter controls were trained in both spatial and cued versions of the Morris water maze. A subset of the male rats was subsequently tested on a delay-discounting task to assess impulsive choice. Ethanol-exposed rats were spatially impaired relative to controls, but performed comparably to controls on the cued version of the water maze. Ethanol-exposed rats also showed greater preference for large delayed rewards on the delay discounting task, but no evidence for altered reward sensitivity or perseverative behavior. These data demonstrate that early postnatal intermittent binge-like ethanol exposure has prolonged, detrimental, but selective effects on cognition, suggesting that even relatively brief ethanol exposure late in human pregnancy can be deleterious for cognitive function.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ethanol / toxicity*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / chemically induced
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / drug effects*
  • Models, Animal
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Third
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reward
  • Sex Characteristics


  • Ethanol