Moderate prenatal alcohol exposure reduces plasticity and alters NMDA receptor subunit composition in the dentate gyrus.
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Although it is well documented that heavy consumption of alcohol during pregnancy impairs brain development, it remains controversial whether moderate consumption causes significant damage. Using a limited access, voluntary consumption paradigm, we recently demonstrated that moderate prenatal alcohol exposure (MPAE) is associated with dentate gyrus-dependent learning and memory deficits that are manifested in adulthood. Here, we identified a novel mechanism that may underlie this effect of MPAE. We found that MPAE mice exhibit deficits in NMDA receptor (NMDAR)-dependent long-term potentiation (LTP) in the dentate gyrus. Further, using semiquantitative immunoblotting techniques, we found that the levels of GluN2B subunits were decreased in the synaptic membrane, while levels of C2'-containing GluN1 and GluN3A subunits were increased, in the dentate gyrus of MPAE mice. These data suggest that MPAE alters the subunit composition of synaptic NMDARs, leading to impaired NMDAR-dependent LTP in the dentate gyrus.