Using Eyeblink Classical Conditioning as a Test of the Functional Consequences of Exposure of the Developing Cerebellum to Alcohol

Green, John T.
January 2003
Integrative Physiological & Behavioral Science;Jan-Mar2003, Vol. 38 Issue 1, p45
Academic Journal
Exposure of the developing brain to alcohol produces profound Purkinje cell loss in the cerebellum, and deficits in tests of motor coordination. However, the precise relationship between these two sets of findings has been difficult to determine. Eyeblink classical conditioning is known to engage a discrete brainstem-cerebellar circuit, making it an ideal test of cerebellar functional integrity alter developmental alcohol exposure. In eyeblink conditioning, one of the deep cerebellar nuclei, the interpositus nucleus, as well as specific Purkinje cell populations, are sites of convergence for CS and US information. A series of studies have shown that eyeblink conditioning is impaired in both weanling and adult rats given binge-like exposure to alcohol as neonates, and that these deficits can be traced, at least in part, to impaired activation of cerebellar interpositus nucleus neurons and to an overall reduction in the deep cerebellar nuclear cell population. Because particular cerebellar cell populations are utilized in well-defined ways during eyeblink conditioning, conclusions regarding specific changes in the mediation of behavior by these cell populations are greatly strengthened. Further studies will be directed towards the impact of early exposure to alcohol on the functionality of specific Purkinje cell populations, as well as towards brainstem areas that process the tone CS and the somatosensory US.


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