Prenatal ethanol exposure (PNEE) causes long-lasting deficits in brain structure and function. In this study, we have examined the effect of PNEE on antioxidant capacity and oxidative stress in the adult brain with particular focus on four brain regions known to be affected by ethanol: cerebellum, prefrontal cortex and hippocampus (cornu ammonis and dentate gyrus subregions). We have utilized a liquid diet model of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders that is supplied to pregnant Sprague-Dawley rats throughout gestation. To examine the therapeutic potential of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation, a subset of animals were provided with an omega-3-enriched diet from birth until adulthood to examine whether these fatty acids could ameliorate any deficits in antioxidant capacity that occurred due to PNEE. Our results showed that PNEE caused a long-lasting decrease in glutathione levels in all four brain regions analyzed that was accompanied by an increase in lipid peroxidation, a marker of oxidative damage. These results indicate that PNEE induces long-lasting changes in the antioxidant capacity of the brain, and this can lead to a state of oxidative stress. Postnatal omega-3 supplementation was able to increase glutathione levels and reduce lipid peroxidation in PNEE animals, partially reversing the effects of alcohol exposure, particularly in the dentate gyrus and the cerebellum. This is the first study where omega-3 supplementation has been shown to have a beneficial effect in PNEE, reducing oxidative stress and enhancing antioxidant capacity.
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