Effects of Prenatal Alcohol Exposure and Aging on Auditory Function in the Rat: Preliminary Results


  • This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health Grant P50 AA07606 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Reprint requests: Michael W. Church, M.D., Fetal Alcohol Research Center, 275 East Hancock, Detroit, MI 48201.


This study investigated select aspects of peripheral and central auditory dysfunction, as well as the pathological effects of aging, in an animal model of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Pregnant rats consumed liquid alcohol diets containing 0, 17.5, or 35% ethanol-derived calories, from gestation day 7 to parturition. A fourth group was untreated. Offspring of these mothers were tested for auditory and neurological function, using the auditory brainstem response at 6, 12, and 18 months of age. Some animals in the alcohol-exposed groups showed a peripheral auditory disorder in the form of congenital sensorineural hearing loss. This was correlated with punctate lesions and malformed stereocilia on the auditory sensory receptor cells of the inner ear. Alcohol-exposed animals also showed a central auditory processing disorder characterized by prolonged transmission of neural potentials along the brainstem portion of the auditory pathway. Animals in the highest dose group also showed an augmentation in the age-related deterioration of auditory acuity. Thus, increased peripheral and central auditory dysfunctions and pathological deterioration of auditory function in old age may be sequelae of FAS. Such morbidities have important implications for the long-term clinical assessment and management of FAS patients.