Behavioral detection of low concentrations of ethanol in milk in the preweanling rat

Marta Yanina Pepino, Kimberly S. Kraebel, Marcelo F. López, Norman E. Spear, Juan Carlos Molina

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous animal models testing infantile reactivity to ethanol (EtOH) in maternal milk used EtOH doses that vastly exceeded levels actually encountered in a mildly or moderately intoxicated dam. The present study assessed whether 12- and 16-day-old rats are capable of detecting EtOH in milk at levels actually recorded in an intoxicated dam. Experiment 1 determined representative levels of EtOH in maternal milk as a function of maternal intragastric administration of EtOH (0.5-3.0 g/kg). Experiment 2A assessed generalization of conditioned taste aversions accrued with a high level of EtOH (6%) in either water or milk vehicles towards lower, more representative EtOH levels obtained from Experiment 1. With body weight gain as the dependent measure, conditioned aversions to milk were evident with the milk vehicle, but there was no detection of EtOH at any level at either age. Detection of the high level of EtOH (6%) in milk, however, was observed by 16 day olds within an habituation paradigm (Exp. 2b) via cardiac and behavioral (locomotion, mouthing) indexes. In Experiment 3 application of Experiment 2's more sensitive, behavioral index to assess generalization of the conditioned taste aversions revealed detection of a lower, more representative concentration of EtOH (175 mg%) in milk in 16-day-old rats. Overall the results show that the unweaned rat is capable of detecting very low concentrations of EtOH in milk and can modify their behavior accordingly. The expression of this capability is not, however, homogenous across different response indexes. In conjunction with prior research it is clear that the infant rat's perception of EtOH in milk, including the very low levels of EtOH found in maternal milk during mild or moderate intoxication, is a relevant experience for generating new responses towards EtOH.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)337-353
Number of pages17
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Associative learning
  • Behavioral detection
  • Conditioned stimulus
  • Ethanol
  • Habituation
  • Heart rate
  • Locomotion
  • Milk
  • Mouthing
  • Nursing
  • Preweanling rat
  • Unconditioned stimulus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Biochemistry
  • Toxicology
  • Neurology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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