Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is associated with learning and memory alterations that could be, in part, a consequence of hippocampal damage. The CA3 hippocampal subfield is one of the regions affected by ethanol (EtOH), including exposure during the third trimester-equivalent (i.e., neonatal period in rats). However, the mechanism of action of EtOH is poorly understood. In CA3 pyramidal neurons from neonatal rats, dendritic BDNF release causes long-term potentiation of the frequency of GABAA receptor-mediated spontaneous postsynaptic currents (LTP-GABAA) and this mechanism is thought to play a role in GABAergic synapse maturation. Here, we show that short- and long-term exposure of neonatal male rats to low EtOH concentrations abolishes LTP-GABAA by inhibiting L-type voltage-gated Ca2+ channels. These findings support the recommendation that even light drinking should be avoided during pregnancy.
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