An Animal Model of Central Nervous System Dysfunction Associated with Fetal Alcohol Exposure: Behavioral and Neuroanatomical Correlates
Charles R. Goodlett Daniel J. Bonthius Edward A. Wasserman James R. West University of Iowa
Experimental approaches to the psychobiology of learning and memory typically divide behavior into various functional components, then evaluate the neural substrates of those components through correlation with specific neural events, or through selective manipulation of identified cell populations or synapses. In contrast, when considering the effects of a teratogen such as alcohol on the developing central nervous system ( CNS), it should be clear that exposure of the CNS to alcohol is a general rather than a selective event and is subject to individual variation in pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics ( Goldstein, 1983). Whereas many fundamental properties of neurons are disrupted by alcohol, the mechanisms of alcohol's effects on the nervous system, including its toxicity on the developing nervous system, are not known ( Michaelis & Michaelis, 1986).
On face value, then, it does not appear that alcohol would be a particularly useful tool for investigating brain development and behavioral function. However, because of its enormous potential for abuse by humans, and the now overwhelming documentation of birth defects induced by alcohol abuse during pregnancy, the need to characterize and to understand the effects of alcohol on the developing brain has become a priority for research in neurotoxicology and behavioral teratology. The expanding number of experimental studies of alcohol and brain development demonstrate that questions concerning the fundamental principles of brain development can also be framed in the context of studies regarding neuroteratological effects of alcohol.