Loss of Reproductive Competence at an Earlier Age in Female Rats Exposed Prenatally to Ethanol

Robert F. McGivern, John McGeary, Stephanie Robeck, Sherryl Cohen, Robert J. Handa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Previous studies have shown that prenatal ethanol exposure can partially masculinize or defeminize neurobehavioral development of female rats. An early age of onset of anovulation is one of the primary characteristics of partial defeminization. Consequently, we examined the occurrence of anovulation in fetal alcohol‐exposed (FAE) female rats at 2,6, and 12 months of age using both vaginal cytology as well as wheel‐running behavior. We assessed the ability of estrogen and progesterone to elicit proprioceptive behaviors and lordosis at 2 and 17 months of age. Female subjects were derived from Sprague‐Dawley dams administered an ethanol liquid diet (35% ethanol‐derived calories), a pair‐fed isocaloric liquid diet, or fed lab chow from days 14 to 22 of gestation. Litter representatives were placed in a computer‐monitored wheel‐running apparatus under a 12‐hr lighting schedule from 49 to 60 days of age. Vaginal smears were taken from littermates during this same period. This same procedure was conducted again from 180 to 196 and from 380 to 396 days of age, except that vaginal cytology was examined in the same animals immediately after wheel‐running behavior was studied. At 2 months of age, a normal cyclical pattern of wheel‐running, characteristic of 4‐ to 5‐day estrus cycles, was observed in all animals. No differences were detected in mean activity levels during the wheel‐running period. This was accompanied by normal cyclic vaginal cytology and normal proprioceptive behaviors and lordosis. At 6 months of age, FAE females exhibited significantly reduced wheel‐running. This was associated with a loss in the cyclical increase in wheel‐running in 8 of 16 FAE females compared with 1 of 15 controls. Vaginal cytology confirmed the significant increase in the number of acyclic FAE females compared with controls at this age in these same animals. At 12–13 months of age, wheel‐running activity was significantly reduced in all treatment groups compared with earlier ages, with no differences observed between groups. This was accompanied by a loss of cyclicity in 50–70% of controls and 100% of FAE animals. At 17 months of age, proprioceptive behavior and the lordosis quotient in FAE females was not different from that observed in controls. However, the quality of the lordotic response was found to be significantly less in FAE females. Overall, these results indicate that the window of reproductive competence in females may be shortened by prenatal alcohol exposure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)427-433
Number of pages7
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1995


  • Lordosis
  • Prenatal Alcohol
  • Rats
  • Sex Behavior
  • Wheel‐Running

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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