Exposure of neonatal rats to alcohol has differential effects on neuroinflammation and neuronal survival in the cerebellum and hippocampus.
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Fetal alcohol exposure is a leading cause of preventable birth defects, yet drinking during pregnancy remains prevalent worldwide. Studies suggest that activation of the neuroimmune system plays a role in the effects of alcohol exposure during the rodent equivalent to the third trimester of human pregnancy (i.e., first week of neonatal life), particularly by contributing to neuronal loss. Here, we performed a comprehensive study investigating differences in the neuroimmune response in the cerebellum and hippocampus, which are important targets of third trimester-equivalent alcohol exposure.To model heavy, binge-like alcohol exposure during this period, we exposed rats to alcohol vapor inhalation during postnatal days (P)3-5 (blood alcohol concentration = 0.5 g/dL). The cerebellar vermis and hippocampus of rat pups were analyzed for signs of glial cell activation and neuronal loss by immunohistochemistry at different developmental stages. Cytokine production was measured by reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction during peak blood alcohol concentration and withdrawal periods. Additionally, adolescent offspring were assessed for alterations in gait and spatial memory.We found that this paradigm causes Purkinje cell degeneration in the cerebellar vermis at P6 and P45; however, no signs of neuronal loss were found in the hippocampus. Significant increases in pro-inflammatory cytokines were observed in both brain regions during alcohol withdrawal periods. Although astrocyte activation occurred in both the hippocampus and cerebellar vermis, microglial activation was observed primarily in the latter.These findings suggest that heavy, binge-like third trimester-equivalent alcohol exposure has time- and brain region-dependent effects on cytokine levels, morphological activation of microglia and astrocytes, and neuronal survival.