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Fetal Alcohol Exposure May Prime Offspring for Alcoholism
Date:12/13/2007

Rat studies suggest the senses learn to like drinking early on

THURSDAY, Dec. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Rats exposed to alcohol while still in the womb learn to like the substance and are more drawn to it as young rats, a new study shows.

The observation may help explain why teens with prior fetal exposure to drinking may be more likely to abuse the substance, researchers say.

"[Exposure] to something mom ate during gestation will alter its response," explained Steven Youngentob, a professor of neuroscience and physiology at State University of New York (SUNY) and member of the SUNY Upstate Developmental Exposure Alcohol Research Center in Syracuse.

Youngentob is lead author of two studies detailing these findings in the December issue of Behavioral Neuroscience.

Even more than family history, fetal exposure to alcohol will predict if a person abuses alcohol later in life. And, the earlier that first experience, the higher the probability the person will have problems with this substance into adulthood, experts say.

Full-blown fetal alcohol syndrome involves profound mental retardation as well as cranial facial defects. But there are also more subtle effects of being exposed to alcohol in utero.

The senses are among earliest systems to develop and seem to allow the developing fetus to "learn" from the mother what is OK to eat and drink by virtue of what mom ingests during pregnancy, Youngentob explained.

"All that information gets transmitted to the fetus during gestation or the infant during lactation," he said. "It turns out that this adaptive mechanism is to the advantage of the organism and probably works for humans as well."

Unless it involves a substance of abuse, he added.

The new studies tested the hypothesis that exposure to alcohol while in the uterus resulted in an altered sensory response to the substance that then affected later behavior
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