Prenatal alcohol exposure and the effects of environmental enrichment on hippocampal dendritic spine density

Robert F Berman, John H. Hannigan, Maureen A. Sperry, Carol S. Zajac

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


The effects of environmental enrichment on synaptic spine density in hippocampal area CA1 were examined in rats exposed prenatally to alcohol. Pregnant dams were given ethanol via intragastric intubation (6 g/kg/day) from gestational days 8 through 19, or given isocaloric sucrose. An untreated control group was also used. After weaning, offspring from the three groups were then reared for 10 weeks in either isolated (caged alone, not handled) or enriched (group housed with 'toys,' handled) conditions. Animals were then sacrificed, the brains Golgi impregnated, and CA1 pyramidal cell apical and basilar spine densities quantified. Among isolated animals there were no significant differences between control and alcohol-exposed groups. In general, environmental enrichment increased apical or basilar spine densities in untreated and sucrose controls. However, in prenatal alcohol-exposed animals, environmental enrichment did not increase spine densities. Because the environmental enrichment acted postnatally, these findings suggest that the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure include decreased neural plasticity enduring into early adulthood. Such a reduction in neuroanatomical plasticity in hippocampus may be associated with cognitive impairments found following prenatal alcohol exposure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)209-216
Number of pages8
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • Dendritic spines
  • Environmental enrichment
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
  • Gender differences
  • Hippocampus
  • Rapid Golgi stain
  • Treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Medicine(all)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Toxicology
  • Health(social science)


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