Consequences of ethanol exposure on cued and contextual fear conditioning and extinction differ depending on timing of exposure during adolescence or adulthood

Behav Brain Res. 2013 Nov 1;256:10-9. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2013.08.013. Epub 2013 Aug 9.


Some evidence suggests that adolescents are more sensitive than adults to ethanol-induced cognitive deficits and that these effects may be long-lasting. The purpose of Exp 1 was to determine if early-mid adolescent [postnatal day (P) 28-48] intermittent ethanol exposure would affect later learning and memory in a Pavlovian fear conditioning paradigm differently than comparable exposures in adulthood (P70-90). In Exp 2 animals were exposed to ethanol during mid-late adolescence (P35-55) to assess whether age of initiation within the adolescent period would influence learning and memory differentially. Male Sprague-Dawley rats were given 4 g/kg i.g. ethanol (25%) or water every 48 h for a total of 11 exposures. After a 22 day non-ethanol period, animals were fear conditioned to a context (relatively hippocampal-dependent task) or tone (amygdala-dependent task), followed by retention tests and extinction (mPFC-dependent) of this conditioning. Despite similar acquisition, a deficit in context fear retention was evident in animals exposed to ethanol in early adolescence, an effect not observed after a comparable ethanol exposure in mid-late adolescence or adulthood. In contrast, animals that were exposed to ethanol in mid-late adolescence or adulthood showed enhanced resistance to context extinction. Together these findings suggest that repeated ethanol imparts long-lasting consequences on learning and memory, with outcomes that differ depending on age of exposure. These results may reflect differential influence of ethanol on the brain as it changes throughout ontogeny and may have implications for alcohol use not only throughout the developmental period of adolescence, but also in adulthood.

Keywords: Adolescence; Adulthood; Ethanol exposure; Lasting consequences; Sprague–Dawley rat.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholic Intoxication
  • Animals
  • Auditory Perception / drug effects
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Body Weight
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / pharmacology*
  • Conditioning, Classical / drug effects*
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology
  • Cues
  • Electroshock
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • Extinction, Psychological / drug effects*
  • Extinction, Psychological / physiology
  • Fear / drug effects*
  • Fear / physiology
  • Freezing Reaction, Cataleptic / drug effects
  • Freezing Reaction, Cataleptic / physiology
  • Growth and Development / drug effects*
  • Male
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Space Perception / drug effects
  • Space Perception / physiology
  • Time


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Ethanol