Developmental alcohol exposure alters light-induced phase shifts of the circadian activity rhythm in rats. Academic Article uri icon


  • BACKGROUND: Developmental alcohol (EtOH) exposure produces long-term changes in the photic regulation of rat circadian behavior. Because entrainment of circadian rhythms to 24-hr light/dark cycles is mediated by phase shifting or resetting the clock mechanism, we examined whether developmental EtOH exposure also alters the phase-shifting effects of light pulses on the rat activity rhythm. METHODS: Artificially reared Sprague-Dawley rat pups were exposed to EtOH (4.5 g/kg/day) or an isocaloric milk formula (gastrostomy control; GC) on postnatal days 4 to 9. At 2 months of age, rats from the EtOH, GC, and suckle control groups were housed individually, and wheel-running behavior was continuously recorded first in a 12-hr light/12-hr dark photoperiod for 10 to 14 days and thereafter in constant darkness (DD). Once the activity rhythm was observed to stably free-run in DD for at least 14 days, animals were exposed to a 15-min light pulse at either 2 or 10 hr after the onset of activity [i.e., circadian time (CT) 14 or 22, respectively], because light exposure at these times induces maximal phase delays or advances of the rat activity rhythm. RESULTS: EtOH-treated rats were distinguished by robust increases in their phase-shifting responses to light. In the suckle control and GC groups, light pulses shifted the activity rhythm as expected, inducing phase delays of approximately 2 hr at CT 14 and advances of similar amplitude at CT 22. In contrast, the same light stimulus produced phase delays at CT 14 and advances at CT 22 of longer than 3 hr in EtOH-treated rats. The mean phase delay at CT 14 and advance at CT 22 in EtOH rats were significantly greater (p < 0.05) than the light-induced shifts observed in control animals. CONCLUSIONS: The data indicate that developmental EtOH exposure alters the phase-shifting responses of the rat activity rhythm to light. This finding, coupled with changes in the circadian period and light/dark entrainment observed in EtOH-treated rats, suggests that developmental EtOH exposure may permanently alter the clock mechanism in the suprachiasmatic nucleus and its regulation of circadian behavior.

published proceedings

  • Alcohol Clin Exp Res

author list (cited authors)

  • Farnell, Y. Z., West, J. R., Chen, W., Allen, G. C., & Earnest, D. J.

citation count

  • 24

complete list of authors

  • Farnell, Yuhua Z||West, James R||Chen, Wei-Jung A||Allen, Gregg C||Earnest, David J

publication date

  • July 2004