Disruption of maternal behavior by alcohol intoxication in the lactating rat: A behavioral and metabolic analysis

Marta Yanina Pepino, Paula Abate, Norman E. Spear, Juan Carlos Molina

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Preweanling rats exhibit clear behavioral signs of distress after interacting with an alcohol-intoxicated dam. Interestingly, behavioral reactivity of infants to the experience of alcohol in the nursing context decreases as a function of repeated alcohol administrations to the mother. In this study, maternal activities were examined when dams were exposed to repeated administrations of a subnarcoleptic alcohol dose. Maternal changes in alcohol metabolism were also analyzed as a function of repeated exposures to the drug. Methods: During postpartum days 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13, nursing dams received an intragastric administration of either 2.5 g/kg of alcohol or water. Maternal behaviors were evaluated (experiment 1). Blood alcohol levels (BALs) of the dams were determined on postpartum day 16 after all mothers received either an intragastric (experiment 2) or an intraperitoneal (experiment 3) dose of alcohol. The doses used (2.5 g/kg intragastrically and 1.5 g/kg intraperitoneally) were chosen because they promote similar peak BALs in dams naive to alcohol. Results: Maternal behaviors were strongly affected by the state of intoxication. Nevertheless, these disruptions clearly subsided with progression of alcohol-related experiences (experiment 1). Chromatographic analysis of alcohol metabolism indicated the development of tolerance in dams that had prior experience with alcohol (experiment 2). Changes in BALs as a function of prior experience with alcohol seemed related to first-pass alcohol metabolism rather than hepatic oxidative processes of the drug (experiments 2 and 3). Conclusions: When the dam first experiences a moderate state of alcohol intoxication, maternal behaviors are uniformly disrupted. Subsequent exposures to alcohol lead to maternal metabolic tolerance. In conjunction with previous studies, these data indicate that infantile reactivity to alcohol is dependent on how the members of the dam/pup dyad express or perceive ethanol's postabsorptive effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1205-1214
Number of pages10
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Alcohol
  • Infantile Learning and Memory
  • Lactation
  • Maternal Behaviors
  • Metabolic Tolerance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Toxicology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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