The blood alcohol clamp is a method whereby alcohol is infused intravenously to maintain a predetermined arterial alcohol concentration (AAC) for an indefinite period of time. The objective of this study was to use the clamp to examine the effects of alcohol on event-related potentials (ERPs) in rats and to assess the development of tolerance during a single alcohol exposure.


Adult male Wistar rats that had a chronic implant of EEG electrodes overlying the frontal cortex and were equipped with cannulae in the jugular vein, were clamped at 75 or 150 mg/dl via an intravenous infusion of 20% (v/v) alcohol. Auditory ERPs were recorded before the alcohol infusion (baseline) and at 5, 15, 120, 135, or 195 min after steady-state AAC was achieved. In a separate group of rats, test-retest reliability was examined by acquiring ERPs two to three times in the same rat at 60-min intervals. Dependent variables were calculated as changes from baseline for each time point for P1-N1 amplitude and P1 and N1 latencies.


In the test-retest study, there were no differences in any of the dependent variables over time, indicating that the measures were stable and repeatable. Estimated AACs of 75 and 150 mg/dl significantly (p= 0.0001) decreased P1-N1 amplitude in a dose-related manner. During both clamps, the alcohol effect peaked at 120 min (p < 0.03) and decreased thereafter. Alcohol had no effect on P1 or N1 latencies.


Pharmacologically relevant AACs significantly decreased the amplitude but not the latencies of the long-latency components of the rat auditory ERP. Acute tolerance developed because the amplitude of the ERP component recovered as AACs were held relatively constant.