Effective treatments for the behavioral and cognitive deficits in children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) are lacking, and translational approaches using animal models can help develop rational interventions. One such model, binge-like alcohol exposure in neonatal rats during the period of brain development comparable with that of the human third trimester, causes structural and functional damage to the cerebellum and disrupts cerebellar-dependent eyeblink classical conditioning. The eyeblink conditioning deficits first demonstrated in this rat model predicted the similar deficits subsequently demonstrated in children with FASD.
The current study extends this translational approach by testing the hypothesis that rehabilitation training involving 20 days of training on traversal of an obstacle course (complex motor learning) would ameliorate the deficits on classical conditioning of eyeblink responses produced by the neonatal alcohol exposure. We have previously shown that this training stimulates cerebellar synaptic plasticity and improves alcohol-induced deficits on motor coordination tasks.
The current studies found that rehabilitation training significantly attenuated alcohol-induced deficits in acquisition of eyeblink conditioning in females but not in males. These results are consistent with normalization of cerebellar-dependent learning, at least in alcohol-exposed females.
These findings extend previous studies in this model suggesting that rehabilitation of adolescents with FASD using training with complex motor learning tasks could be effective in ameliorating functional impairments associated with cerebellar damage. Eyeblink classical conditioning deficits are now well documented in children with FASD and could serve as an evaluation measure to continue to develop therapeutic interventions such as complex motor learning.