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Keywords:

  • fetal alcohol spectrum disorder;
  • glutamate decarboxylase;
  • glutamine synthetase;
  • LTP;
  • sex differences

ABSTRACT

Alcohol consumption during pregnancy is deleterious to the developing brain of the fetus and leads to persistent deficits in adulthood. Long-term potentiation (LTP) is a biological model for learning and memory processes and previous evidence has shown that prenatal ethanol exposure (PNEE) affects LTP in a sex specific manner during adolescence. The objective of this study was to determine if there are sex specific differences in adult animals and to elucidate the underlying molecular mechanisms that contribute to these differences. Pregnant Sprague–Dawley dams were assigned to either; liquid ethanol, pair-fed or standard chow diet. In vivo electrophysiology was performed in the hippocampal dentate gyrus (DG) of adult offspring. LTP was induced by administering 400 Hz stimuli. Western blot analysis for glutamine synthetase (GS) and glutamate decarboxylase from tissue of the DG indicated that GS expression was increased following PNEE. Surprisingly, adult females did not show any deficit in N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA)-dependent LTP after PNEE. In contrast, males showed a 40% reduction in LTP. It was indicated that glutamine synthetase expression was increased in PNEE females, suggesting that altered excitatory neurotransmitter replenishment may serve as a compensatory mechanism. Ovariectomizing females did not influence LTP in control or PNEE animals, suggesting that circulating estradiol levels do not play a major role in maintaining LTP levels in PNEE females. These results demonstrate the sexually dimorphic effects of PNEE on the ability for the adult brain to elicit LTP in the DG. The mechanisms for these effects are not fully understood, but an increase in glutamine synthetase in females may underlie this phenomenon. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.