Ethanol exposure during the last week of gestation in the rat: Inhibition of the prenatal testosterone surge in males without long-term alterations in sex behavior

Robert F. Mcgivern, Robert J. Handa, William J. Raum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


In utero ethanol exposure decreases the prenatal testosterone (T) surge in male rats. To determine the functional significance of this suppression, we measured sex behavior in adult litter representatives of pregnant rats that were administered a fortified liquid diet containing 35% ethanol-derived calories from day 15 of gestation through parturition. Control dams were pair-fed an isocaloric liquid diet with the ethanol calories replaced by sucrose. Results from the behavioral studies showed that gonadally intact fetal alcohol-exposed (FAE) males exhibited little masculine sex behavior in the first of four weekly sessions. However, their behavior in the subsequent three tests was indistinguishable from pair-fed controls. Lordosis quotients in the same males following castration and estrogen and progesterone treatment were under 10%. In castrated FAE females, no effects of prenatal ethanol exposure were observed in masculine behaviors following androgen replacement or feminine sex behaviors following estrogen and progesterone replacement. Additional studies measured the duration of prenatal ethanol exposure necessary to inhibit the prenatal T surge in order to determine whether the inhibition was due to a direct effect of the drug. Results revealed an inhibition of the surge in males exposed to ethanol from days 14 through 20 of pregnancy, days 14 through 16 of pregnancy, or days 17 through 20 of pregnancy. A normal surge of T was observed on days 18-19 of gestation in control fetuses. These findings indicate that ethanol does not have to be present in blood at the time of the surge to have an inhibitory effect. They also reveal that the surge can be inhibited with as little as 24-36 h of ethanol exposure prior to its normal appearance on day 18 of gestation. In spite of this inhibition of the prenatal T surge, the behavioral results indicate that normal masculinization and defeminization of sex behavior occurs in FAE males exposed to ethanol after the beginning of the period of differentiation of the hypothalamus and testes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)483-490
Number of pages8
JournalNeurotoxicology and Teratology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1998


  • Defeminization
  • Estrogen
  • Lordosis
  • Masculinization
  • Prenatal alcohol
  • Prenatal testosterone surge
  • Progesterone
  • Rat
  • Sex behavior
  • Testosterone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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