Psychology ETDs


James Rice

Publication Date



Recent findings using a moderate prenatal alcohol consumption model in rats found that male offspring had reduced dendritic fields in medium spiny neurons of the nucleus accumbens (NAc). These results suggest that moderate fetal alcohol exposure (FAE) leads to long-lasting alterations in brain regions involved in reward processing that could lead to abnormal behavior related to ethanol (EtOH) in adulthood. Here, five experiments were carried out to establish the extent to which moderate FAE leads to increased EtOH consumption in adulthood, how functional and structural alterations in the NAc are related to EtOH consumption, and whether moderate FAE has any effect on EtOH metabolism and general reward learning. Rats exposed to moderate FAE had increased consumption and preference for both a 10% and 20% EtOH solution across several weeks of exposure, and FAE animals also had significant reductions in measures of NAc core and shell dendritic morphology, as well as reductions in core Homer1a immediate-early gene expression. In control animals, measures of shell dendritic morphology and core Arc expression served as significant predictors of ethanol consumption while core dendritic morphology predicted EtOH consumption in FAE rats. No significant differences were found between FAE animals and controls for measures of general reward processing in an intra cranial self-stimulation task or for EtOH metabolism. These results suggest that moderate FAE results in structural and functional alterations in the NAc, and that these effects have important implications for reward processing and EtOH consumption in adulthood.

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Level of Degree


Department Name


First Advisor

Hamilton, Derek

First Committee Member (Chair)

Yeo, Ronald

Second Committee Member

Savage, Daniel

Third Committee Member

Brigman, Jonathan


National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism




Alcohol, FAS, nucleus accumbens, dendritic morphology, reward

Document Type