Reversal learning and experimenter-administered chronic intermittent ethanol exposure in male rats

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2016 Oct;233(19-20):3615-26. doi: 10.1007/s00213-016-4395-6. Epub 2016 Aug 12.


Rationale: Chronic alcohol exposure is associated with impaired decision making skills, cognitive deficits, and poor performance on tasks requiring behavioral flexibility. Although oral routes of alcohol administration are commonly used to examine effects of alcohol on various behaviors in rodents, only a few investigations have used intragastric exposures to evaluate ethanol's effects on behavioral flexibility in the adult rat.

Objectives: The aim of the current series of experiments was to determine if behavioral flexibility impairments would be demonstrated across a variety of procedural factors, including route of administration [intraperitoneal injection (i.p.), intragastric gavage (i.g.)], ethanol dose (3-5 g/kg), number of daily exposures (once/day, twice/day), duration of exposure (2-6 weeks), or length of abstinence (5-7 days).

Methods: Adult male Sprague-Dawley rats were exposed to chronic intermittent ethanol (CIE) or vehicle and evaluated for behavioral intoxication, blood ethanol concentrations (BEC), and performance on a reversal learning odor discrimination task.

Results: While all rats displayed behavioral intoxication and elevated BECs, CIE i.p. rats had prolonged elevation in BECs and made the most errors during the reversal learning task. Unexpectedly, CIE i.g. exposures failed to produce deficits during reversal learning tasks regardless of ethanol dose, frequency/duration of exposure, or length of abstinence.

Conclusions: Behavioral flexibility deficits resulting from CIE i.p. exposures may be due to the severity and chronicity of alcohol intoxication. Elucidating the impact of ethanol on behavioral flexibility is critical for developing a better understanding of the behavioral consequences of chronic alcohol exposure.

Keywords: Abstinence; Blood ethanol concentration; Chronic intermittent ethanol; Ethanol; Intragastric; Intraperitoneal; Rat; Reversal learning; Simple discrimination.

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholic Intoxication
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Blood Alcohol Content
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / administration & dosage
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / pharmacology*
  • Ethanol / administration & dosage
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • Gastric Lavage
  • Injections, Intraperitoneal
  • Male
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reversal Learning / drug effects*
  • Time Factors


  • Blood Alcohol Content
  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Ethanol