• Ethanol;
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome;
  • Mitral Cell;
  • Granule Cell;
  • Purkinje Cell

This study was conducted to determine the temporal and regional vulnerability of the brain as a function of exposure to alcohol during brain development. Our goal was to manipulate the timing of alcohol exposure and assess the relative risk of cell loss in two different brain regions. Groups of timed pregnant Sprague-Dawley rats received binge-like alcohol exposure during either the first 10 days (first-trimester equivalent) or second 10 days of gestation (second-trimester equivalent), or the combination of first- and second-trimester equivalents for prenatal treatments. Offspring from some of the animals exposed to alcohol during the combined first- and second-trimester equivalent were reared artificially from postnatal days (P) 4 through 9 (part of the third-trimester equivalent) and also received binge-like alcohol during this period, producing animals that were exposed to alcohol during all three trimesters equivalent. Offspring from untreated dams were also reared artificially and received alcohol from only P4-9, thus creating animals that were exposed to alcohol only during part of the third-trimester equivalent. All pups were perfused on P10. Appropriate controls (nutritional and normally reared) were matched to every alcohol treatment combination. Peak blood alcohol concentrations were not different among the treatment groups for a given sampling time. Total cell numbers in the cerebellum (Purkinje and granule cells) and the olfactory bulb (mitral and granule cells) were estimated by the unbiased stereological technique, the optical disector. In terms of temporal vulnerability, alcohol exposure during the equivalent of all three trimesters resulted in a greater reduction in cerebellar Purkinje cell numbers compared with exposure to alcohol during the third-trimester equivalent, whereas both groups had a significant reduction in cell number compared with all other timing groups. Cerebellar granule cell number was reduced after alcohol exposure during all three trimesters equivalent, compared with all other timing groups. Alcohol exposure during the third-trimester equivalent resulted in a decrement in the number of olfactory bulb mitral cell numbers compared with all other groups, but there were no differences among the timing groups in numbers of olfactory bulb granule cells. When the cell loss in the two regions was compared within each alcohol treatment group to determine the relative regional vulnerability, the primary salient finding was that cerebellar Purkinje cells were more vulnerable to alcohol-induced loss subsequent to exposure during all three trimesters equivalent. No other regional differences were detected. These results extend earlier findings by showing that alcohol exposure during different periods of brain development results in regional differences in cell loss as a function of the timing of alcohol exposure during brain development and illustrate the variability of alcohol-induced neuronal loss.