Prenatal ethanol exposure alters the modulation of the gamma-aminobutyric acidA1 receptor-gated chloride ion channel in adult rat offspring.
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We examined the effect of prenatal ethanol exposure on gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)-stimulated 36Cl- flux. Sprague-Dawley rat dams were fed either a liquid diet containing 5% ethanol, pair-fed an isocalorically equivalent 0% ethanol diet or rat chow ad libitum throughout gestation. Membrane vesicles were prepared from medial frontal cortex, cerebellum and hippocampal formation of adult offspring in each diet group. GABA-stimulated 36Cl- flux was not significantly affected by prenatal ethanol exposure in any of the three brain regions examined. Positive allosteric modulation of GABA-stimulated 36Cl- flux by flunitrazepam or alphaxalone, as well as negative modulation by FG-7142 or pregnenolone, were all diminished in medial frontal cortex of 5% ethanol diet offspring compared with both ad libitum and pair-fed control groups. In cerebellum, prenatal ethanol exposure attenuated the modulatory effects of both benzodiazepines, but did not affect neurosteroid modulation. In hippocampus, prenatal ethanol exposure enhanced the effects of flunitrazepam and alphaxalone, whereas negative modulatory effects were either decreased (FG-7142) or unchanged (pregnenolone). These results indicate that moderate ethanol consumption during gestation can produce long-lasting alterations in neuromodulatory influences on GABAA receptor-mediated inhibitory neurotransmission in adult offspring. In hippocampal formation, the heightened sensitivity to positive modulatory influences may contribute to synaptic plasticity deficits in fetal ethanol-exposed rat offspring. We speculate that these prenatal ethanol-induced changes may be either a consequence of differential GABAA receptor subunit expression or receptor uncoupling in different brain regions. Furthermore, offspring exposed to ethanol in utero may display differential sensitivities to benzodiazepines and possibly other centrally active therapeutic agents.