Oubraim, S., Wang, R., Hausknecht, K. et al. Prenatal ethanol exposure causes anxiety-like phenotype and alters synaptic nitric oxide and endocannabinoid signaling in dorsal raphe nucleus of adult male rats. Transl Psychiatry 12, 440 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-022-02210-7
Mood disorders, including anxiety and depression caused by prenatal ethanol exposure (PE) are prevalent conditions in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). Prenatal ethanol exposure is associated with persistent dysfunctions of several neurotransmitter systems, including the serotonin (5-HT) system, which plays a major role in mood regulation and stress homeostasis. While PE is known to disrupt the development of the 5-HT system, the cellular mechanisms by which it alters the function of dorsal raphe nucleus (DRn) 5-HT neurons and their synaptic inputs remain unknown.
Here, we used a second-trimester binge-drinking pattern PE (two daily gavages of 15% w/v ethanol at 3 g/kg, 5–6 h apart) during gestational days 8 – 20 and measured anxiety-like behaviors of adult male rats using the elevated plus (EPM) and zero (ZM) mazes. We also employed ex-vivo electrophysiological and pharmacological approaches to unravel the mechanisms by which PE alters the excitability and synaptic transmission onto DRn 5-HT neurons.
We found that PE enhanced anxiety-like behaviors in adult male rats and induced a persistent activation of DRn 5-HT neurons. The PE-induced activation of DRn 5-HT neurons was largely mediated by potentiation of DRn glutamate synapses, which was caused by activation of the nitrergic system and impaired endocannabinoid signaling.
As such, the present study reveals “push-pull” effects of PE on nitrergic and eCB signaling, respectively, which mediate the enhanced activity of DRn 5-HT neurons and could contribute to anxiety-like behaviors observed in animal model of FASD.