Citation: Keum, D., Pultorak, K., Meredith, M. A., & Medina, A. E. (2023). Effects of Developmental Alcohol Exposure on Cortical Multisensory integration. European Journal of Neuroscience. https://doi.org/10.1111/ejn.15907
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) are one of the most common causes of mental disabilities in the world with a prevalence of 1-6% of all births. Sensory processing deficits and cognitive problems are a major feature in this condition. Because developmental alcohol exposure can impair neuronal plasticity; and neuronal plasticity is crucial for the establishment of neuronal circuits in sensory areas; we predicted that exposure to alcohol during the third trimester equivalent of human gestation would disrupt the development of multisensory integration (MSI) in the ferret rostral posterior parietal cortex (PPr), an integrative visual-tactile area.
We conducted in vivo electrophysiology in 17 ferrets from four groups (Saline/Alcohol; Infancy/Adolescence). A total of 1157 neurons were recorded after visual, tactile and combined visual-tactile stimulation. A Multisensory (MS) enhancement or suppression is characterized by a significantly increased or decreased number of elicited spikes after combined visual-tactile stimulation compared to the strongest unimodal (visual or tactile) response.
At the neuronal level, those in infant animals were more prone to show MS suppression whereas adolescents were more prone to show MS enhancement. While alcohol-treated animals showed similar developmental changes between infancy to adolescence, they always “lagged behind” controls showing more MS suppression and less enhancement.
Our findings suggest that alcohol exposure during the last months of human gestation would stunt the development of MSI, which could underlie sensory problems seen in FASD.