Drinking alcohol in moderation is often considered a health-conscious behavior, associated with improved cardiovascular and brain health. However, "moderate" amounts of alcohol include drinking 3-4 alcohol beverages in a day, which is closer to binge drinking and may do more harm than good. Here we examined how daily drinking of moderate-high alcohol alters the production of new neurons in the adult hippocampus. Male and female adult Sprague-Dawley rats were provided free access to a liquid replacement diet that was supplemented with either 4% ethanol or Maltodextrin for a period of 2 weeks. Proliferating cells were labeled with 5-bromo-2-deoxyuridine (BrdU) and the number of BrdU-positive cells in the hippocampus was assessed after the final day of drinking. A subset of rats was also exposed to a motor skill or associative learning task to examine the functional effects of alcohol consumption. The drinking regime resulted in an average blood alcohol concentration of approximately 0.08%, which is comparable to the human legal driving limit in many countries. This level of intoxication did not impair motor skill learning or function in either sex, nor did the alcohol consumption disrupt associative learning 2 days after drinking. Therefore, moderate alcohol consumption did not disrupt basic sensory, motor or learning processes. However, the number of cells produced in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus was reduced by nearly 40%. Thus, even moderate consumption of alcohol for a relatively short period of time can have profound effects on structural plasticity in the adult brain.
Copyright © 2012 IBRO. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.