Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Fetal ethanol exposure increases ethanol intake of offspring

More sobering information on how maternal patterns of drug use, can be passed on to offspring, presumably by means of epigenetic chemosensory mechanisms.
Human epidemiologic studies reveal that fetal ethanol exposure is highly predictive of adolescent ethanol avidity and abuse. Little is known about how fetal exposure produces these effects. It is hypothesized that fetal ethanol exposure results in stimulus-induced chemosensory plasticity. Here, we asked whether gestational ethanol exposure increases postnatal ethanol avidity in rats by altering its taste and odor. Experimental rats were exposed to ethanol in utero via the dam's diet, whereas control rats were either pair-fed an iso-caloric diet or given food ad libitum. We found that fetal ethanol exposure increased the taste-mediated acceptability of both ethanol and quinine hydrochloride (bitter), but not sucrose (sweet). Importantly, a significant proportion of the increased ethanol acceptability could be attributed directly to the attenuated aversion to ethanol's quinine-like taste quality. Fetal ethanol exposure also enhanced ethanol intake and the behavioral response to ethanol odor. Notably, the elevated intake of ethanol was also causally linked to the enhanced odor response. Our results demonstrate that fetal exposure specifically increases ethanol avidity by, in part, making it taste and smell better. More generally, they establish an epigenetic chemosensory mechanism by which maternal patterns of drug use can be transferred to offspring. Given that many licit (e.g., tobacco products) and illicit (e.g., marijuana) drugs have noteworthy chemosensory components, our findings have broad implications for the relationship between maternal patterns of drug use, child development, and postnatal vulnerability.

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