Developmental alcohol and circadian clock function
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Studies in rats found that alcohol exposure during the early postnatal period, particularly during the brain-growth-spurt period, can result in cell loss in various brain regions and persistent behavioral impairments. Some investigators have speculated that the body's internal clock, which is located in the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) in the brain, may also be affected by developmental alcohol exposure. For example, alcohol-induced damage to the SCN cells and their function could result in disturbances of the circadian timekeeping function, and these disturbances might contribute to the behavioral impairments and affective disorders observed in people prenatally exposed to alcohol. Preliminary findings of studies conducted in rats suggest that developmental alcohol exposure may indeed interfere with circadian clock function as evidenced by a shortened circadian sleep-wake cycle and changes in the release of certain brain chemicals (i.e., neuropeptides) by SCN cells.