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Alcohol's pharmacological properties, not smell or taste, reinforce its effects

  • Brain development during the first 10 days or so of rodent infancy is roughly equivalent to the third trimester of the human fetus.
  • New research indicates that alcohol's reinforcing properties during rodent infancy can be due to its pharmacological effects, independent of taste or smell.

Animal research has shown that rodent infants are susceptible to the reinforcing effects of alcohol. Scientists also know that exposure to alcohol during rodent infancy can change responsiveness to alcohol later in life. A study in the October issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research has found that alcohol's reinforcing properties during rodent infancy are due to its pharmacological effects.

"In terms of brain development, the first 10 days or so after birth for the rat is, very roughly, equivalent to the third trimester of the human fetus," said Elena I. Varlinskaya, associate research professor at Binghamton University and corresponding author for the study. "The extent to which alcohol is considered "reinforcing" is measured by the extent to which the animal approaches rather than avoids the predictor of alcohol's effects, in this case, a surrogate nipple. Previous research has indicated that infants, but not adults, might find the taste of alcohol reinforcing. Infants readily consume even high concentrations, up to at least 30 percent alcohol, whereas adults are reluctant to consume concentrations higher than six percent alcohol, and will do so only after weeks or months of training; even then they will rarely accept an alcohol concentration higher than 10 percent. Alcohol reinforcement in adult rats has been attributed largely to its pharmacological consequences. This was much less clear for infant rats, which is the reason for the present study."

"Fetuses and infants have an amazing capacity to learn and form associations among events in their environment," added Jennifer D. Thomas, assistant professor
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14-Oct-2003


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