Effects of ethanol exposure during adolescence or in adulthood on Pavlovian conditioned approach in Sprague-Dawley rats

Alcohol. 2014 Dec;48(8):755-63. doi: 10.1016/j.alcohol.2014.05.006. Epub 2014 Sep 28.


Human studies have shown that adolescents who repeatedly use alcohol are more likely to be dependent on alcohol and are more likely to suffer from psychological problems later in life. There has been limited research examining how ethanol exposure in adolescence might contribute to later abuse or addiction in adulthood. The present experiment examined effects of intermittent ethanol exposure during adolescence on sign-tracking behavior in adulthood, indexed by a Pavlovian conditioned approach (PCA) task wherein an 8s lever presentation served as a cue predicting subsequent delivery of a flavored food pellet. Although no response was required for food delivery, after multiple pairings, 1 of 2 different responses often emerged during the lever presentation: goal tracking (head entries into the food trough) or sign tracking (engagement with the lever when presented). Sign tracking is thought to reflect the attribution of incentive salience to reward-paired cues and has been previously correlated with addiction-like behaviors. Following the last PCA session, blood samples were collected for analysis of post-session corticosterone levels. Sixty-two rats (n = 10-12/group) were pseudo-randomly assigned to 1 of 2 intragastric (i.g.) exposure groups (water or 4 g/kg ethanol) or a non-manipulated (NM) control group. Animals were intubated with ethanol or water every other session from postnatal session (PND) 28-48 or PND 70-90. Rats were then tested in adulthood (PND 71-79 or PND 113-122) on the PCA task. Animals exposed chronically to ethanol during adolescence exhibited significantly higher levels of sign-tracking behavior in adulthood than NM and water-treated animals, and showed higher corticosterone than NM control animals. These effects were not seen after comparable ethanol exposure in adulthood. These results suggest that adolescent alcohol exposure has long-term consequences on the expression of potential addiction-relevant behaviors in adulthood.

Keywords: Adolescence; Ethanol; Goal tracking; Rat; Sign tracking.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Classical / drug effects*
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology*
  • Ethanol / administration & dosage*
  • Male
  • Random Allocation
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley


  • Ethanol