Continuous and intermittent alcohol free-choice from pre-gestational time to lactation: Focus on drinking trajectories and maternal behavior

Anna Brancato, Fulvio Plescia, Gianluca Lavanco, Angela Cavallaro, Carla Cannizzaro
Front. Behav. Neurosci.. 2016-03-03; 10:
DOI: 10.3389/fnbeh.2016.00031

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BACKGROUND: Alcohol consumption during pregnancy and lactation induces
detrimental consequences, that are not limited to the direct in utero effects of
the drug on fetuses, but extend to maternal care. However, the occurrence and
severity of alcohol toxicity are related to the drinking pattern and the time of
exposure. The present study investigated in female rats long-term alcohol
drinking trajectories, by a continuous and intermittent free-choice paradigm,
during pre-gestational time, pregnancy, and lactation; moreover, the consequences
of long-term alcohol consumption on the response to natural reward and maternal
behavior were evaluated.
METHODS: Virgin female rats were exposed to home-cage two-bottle continuous- or
intermittent “alcohol (20% v/v) vs. water” choice regimen along 12 weeks and
throughout pregnancy and lactation. Animals were tested for saccharin preference,
and maternal behavior was assessed by recording dams’ undisturbed spontaneous
home-cage behavior in the presence of their offspring.
RESULTS: Our results show that the intermittent alcohol drinking-pattern induced
an escalation in alcohol intake during pre-gestational time and lactation more
than the continuous access, while a reduction in alcohol consumption was observed
during pregnancy, contrarily to the drinking trajectories of the continuous
access-exposed rats. Long-term voluntary alcohol intake induced a decreased
saccharin preference in virgin female rats and a significant reduction in
maternal care, with respect to control dams, although the intermittent drinking
produced a greater impairment than the continuous-access paradigm.
CONCLUSION: The present data indicate that both alcohol-drinking patterns are
associated to modifications in the drinking trajectories of female rats, in
pre-gestational time, during pregnancy and lactation. Moreover, long-lasting
alcohol intake can affect sensitivity to natural rewarding stimuli and maternal
behavior and sensitivity to natural rewarding stimuli in a pattern-related
manner. This study underlies the importance of modeling human alcohol habit and
its consequences on the mother-infant dyad, in order to prevent detrimental
effects on offspring development and maturation.


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