Effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on pup development and vocalization behavior and on dam retrieval behavior

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


An animal model (Rattus norvegicus) was employed to study the effects of chronic prenatal alcohol exposure on pup development and on the functional efficacy of pup vocalizations on the maternal behavior of the dam. Subjects were 72 dams and their litters. Dams were matched by weight and assigned to either an Ethanol (EtOH), a Pair-fed (PF), or an Untreated Control (UC) group. Ethanol dams received 15% ethanol as their sole source of fluid throughout the experiment. Pair-fed dams were fed isocalorically to EtOH dams. Untreated Control dams received food and water ad libitum.

Dam's retrieval behavior was assessed in a runway choice situation when pups were 3, 5, 7, and 9 days old. Developmental measures were taken on pups from ages 0 through 13 days. Blood ethanol concentrations were also analyzed for dams and pups.

The data showed that the BEC of EtOH dams was .1% and that EtOH pups showed a negligible BEC postpartum. Prenatal alcohol exposure was shown to have a direct pharmacological and indirect nutritional effect on pup development. Ethanol dams retrieved a reliably smaller percentage of pups and retrieved reliably more slowly than did controls. Pair-fed pups showed a higher rate of calling than did other pups and tended to be chosen more often by UC and PF dams than were EtOH or UC pups. Ethanol dams tended to chose UC pups more often than other pups.

These findings suggest that chronic prenatal alcohol exposure produces altered behavior and responsiveness in the dam and the pup. This altered behavior and responsiveness may have a synergistic effect on the interaction between the dam and the pup.