Prenatal alcohol-induced sex differences in immune, metabolic and neurobehavioral outcomes in adult rats.
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Prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) can result in neurobehavioral anomalies, that may be exacerbated by co-occurring metabolic and immune system deficits. To test the hypothesis that the peripheral inflammation in adult PAE offspring is linked to poor glucose metabolism and neurocognitive deficits, pregnant Sprague-Dawley rats were exposed to ethanol vapor or ambient air during the latter half of gestation. We assessed, in adult offspring of both sexes, performance on a battery of neurocognitive behaviors, glucose tolerance, circulating and splenic immune cells by flow-cytometry, and circulating and tissue (liver, mesenteric adipose, and spleen) cytokines by multiplexed assays. PAE reduced both the ratio of spleen to body weight and splenic regulatory T-cell (Treg) numbers. PAE males, but not females exhibited an increase in circulating monocytes. Overall, PAE males exhibited a suppression of cytokine levels, while PAE females exhibited elevated cytokines in mesenteric adipose tissue (IL-6 and IL1) and liver (IFN-, IL-1, IL-13, IL-18, IL-12p70, and MCP-1), along with increased glucose intolerance. Behavioral analysis also showed sex-dependent PAE effects. PAE-males exhibited increased anxiety-like behavior while PAE-females showed decreased social interaction. PAE offspring of both sexes exhibited impaired recognition of novel objects. Multilinear regression modeling to predict the association between peripheral immune status, glucose intolerance and behavioral outcomes, showed that in PAE offspring, higher levels of adipose leptin and liver TNF- predicted higher circulating glucose levels. Lower liver IL-1 and higher plasma fractalkine predicted more time spent in the center of an open-field with sex being an additional predictor. Higher circulating and splenic Tregs predicted better social interaction in the PAE-offspring. Collectively, our data show that peripheral immune status is a persistent, sex-dependent predictor of glucose intolerance and neurobehavioral function in adult PAE offspring.