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Alteration in anxiety-related behaviors and reduction of serotonergic neurons in raphe nuclei in adult rats prenatally exposed to ethanol

Authors

  • Ken-ichi Ohta,

    1. Department of Anatomy and Developmental Neurobiology, Institute of Health Biosciences, University of Tokushima Graduate School, Tokushima, Japan
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  • Hiromi Sakata-Haga,

    1. Department of Anatomy and Developmental Neurobiology, Institute of Health Biosciences, University of Tokushima Graduate School, Tokushima, Japan
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  • Yoshihiro Fukui

    1. Department of Anatomy and Developmental Neurobiology, Institute of Health Biosciences, University of Tokushima Graduate School, Tokushima, Japan
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Hiromi Sakata-Haga, PhD, Department of Anatomy and Developmental Neurobiology, Institute of Health Biosciences, University of Tokushima Graduate School, 3-18-15 Kuramoto-cho, Tokushima 770-8503, Japan. Email: haga@basic.med.tokushima-u.ac.jp

ABSTRACT

It is known that the developing serotonergic system is one of the targets of ethanol teratogenicity. Because serotonin has multiple functions in both mature and immature brains, disturbance of the serotonergic system by ethanol exposure in utero can be cause of a wide range of psychiatric problems in adulthood. In the present study, we observed serotonergic neurons in the midbrain raphe nuclei and anxiety-like behaviors which would be affected by an altered serotonergic system in adult rats prenatally exposed to ethanol. Pregnant rats were fed a liquid diet containing 2.5–5.0% (w/v) ethanol on gestational days 10–21. Their offspring were examined at 60–70 days of age. A significant decrease in the number of serotonergic cells in the midbrain raphe nuclei was shown in prenatally ethanol-exposed offspring. In an open field test, they spent more time in a central area compared to controls. Also in an elevated plus maze test, prenatally ethanol-exposed offspring spent more time on the open arms than controls. These behavioral results suggested that prenatally ethanol-exposed rats were less sensitive to anxiety. However, 44% of prenatally ethanol-exposed offspring exhibited freezing behavior on the open arms of the elevated plus maze, causing strong anxiety, compared with 0% in intact control and 12.5% in isocaloric sucrose-fed control groups. These findings suggest that prenatal ethanol exposure decreases both susceptibility and resistance of anxiety. Insufficient serotonergic actions caused by reduced serotonergic neurons in the raphe nuclei might contribute to the alterations in anxiety-related behaviors observed in our prenatally ethanol-exposed rats.

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