Effects of ethanol and varenicline on female Sprague-Dawley rats in a third trimester model of fetal alcohol syndrome. Academic Article uri icon


  • Perinatal ethanolexposure disrupts a variety of developmental processes in neurons important for establishing a healthy brain. These ethanol-induced impairments known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) are not fully understood, and currently, there is no effective treatment. Further, growing evidence suggests that adult females are more susceptible to ethanol, with the effects of perinatal ethanol exposure also being sexually divergent. Female models have been historically underutilized in neurophysiological investigations, but here, we used a third-trimester binge-ethanol model of FASD to examine changes to basal forebrain (BF) physiology and behavior in female Sprague-Dawley rats. We also tested varenicline as a potential cholinomimetic therapeutic. Rat pups were gavage-treated with binge-like ethanol, varenicline and ethanol, and varenicline alone. Using patch-clamp electrophysiology in BF slices, we observed that binge-ethanol exposure increased spontaneous post-synaptic current (sPSC) frequency. Varenicline exposure alone also enhanced sPSC frequency. Varenicline plus ethanol co-treatment prevented the sPSC frequency increase. Changes in BF synaptic transmission persisted into adolescence after binge-ethanol treatment. Behaviorally, binge-ethanol treated females displayed increased anxiety (thigmotaxis) and demonstrated learning deficits in the water maze. Varenicline/ethanol co-treatment was effective at reducing these behavioral deficits. In the open field, ethanol-treated rats displayed longer distances traveled and spent less time in the center of the open field box. Co-treated rats displayed less anxiety, demonstrating a possible effect of varenicline on this measure. In conclusion, ethanol-induced changes in both BF synaptic transmission and behavior were reduced by varenicline in female rats, supporting a role for cholinergic therapeutics in FASD treatment.

published proceedings

  • Alcohol

altmetric score

  • 0.25

author list (cited authors)

  • Montgomery, K. S., Bancroft, E. A., Fincher, A. S., Migut, E. A., Provasek, V., Murchison, D., & DuBois, D. W.

citation count

  • 1

complete list of authors

  • Montgomery, Karienn S||Bancroft, Eric A||Fincher, Annette S||Migut, Ewelina A||Provasek, Vincent||Murchison, David||DuBois, Dustin W

publication date

  • September 2018