Does moderate drinking harm the fetal brain? Insights from animal models.
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Although public health campaigns advise pregnant women to abstain from ethanol, drinking during pregnancy is pervasive. Here, we highlight recent studies that have clearly demonstrated long-lasting neurobehavioral deficits in the offspring of laboratory animals exposed to moderate levels of ethanol during development. Alterations in learning, memory, motor coordination, social behavior, and stress responses were identified in these animals. Increased vulnerability to substance abuse was also demonstrated. These behavioral alterations have been associated with impairments in neurotransmitter systems, neuromodulators, and/or synaptic plasticity in several brain regions. With this review we hope to contribute to a better appreciation of the potential effects of developmental exposure to moderate ethanol levels, leading to better interventions aimed at relieving fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.