Pavlovian fear conditioning is an ideal model to investigate how learning and memory are influenced by alcohol use during adolescence because the neural mechanisms involved have been studied extensively. In Exp 1, adolescent and adult male Sprague-Dawley rats were non-injected or injected with saline, 1 or 1.5 g/kg ethanol intraperitoneally 10 min prior to tone or context conditioning. Twenty-four hours later, animals were tested for tone or context retention and extinction, with examination of extinction retention conducted 24h thereafter. In Exp 2, a context extinction session was inserted between the tone conditioning and the tone fear retention/extinction days to reduce pre-CS baseline freezing levels at test. Basal levels of acquisition, fear retention, extinction, and extinction retention after tone conditioning were similar between adolescent and adult rats. In contrast adolescents showed faster context extinction than adults, while again not differing from adults during context acquisition, retention or extinction retention. In terms of ethanol effects, adolescents were less sensitive to ethanol-induced context retention deficits than adults. No age differences emerged in terms of tone fear retention, with ethanol disrupting tone fear retention at both ages in Exp 1, but at neither age in Exp 2, a difference seemingly due to group differences in pre-CS freezing during tone testing in Exp 1, but not Exp 2. These results suggest that age differences in the acute effects of ethanol on cognitive function are task-specific, and provide further evidence for age differences cognitive functioning in a task thought to be hippocampally related.
Keywords: Adolescent; Adult; Alcohol; Extinction; Fear conditioning; Sprague-Dawley rat.
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