Preliminary data from our lab have demonstrated prenatal ethanol exposure could disrupt the organization and structure of midbrain dopamine (DA) neurons located in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) in rats. We also observe pro-inflammatory microglial cell activation surrounding VTA DA neurons, indicated by increased microglial cell body size and retracted processes. These PE-induced changes are not observed in pre-adolescence rats but present in young adult rats, indicating these changes are age-dependent during development. These observations suggest that adolescence is a critical period for the development of organization and dendritic structures of DA neurons. Because microglia play an important role in neuronal development and synaptic pruning, it is possible that neuroinflammation caused by microglial activation during adolescence in PE rats lead to impaired organization and dendritic structures of VTA DA neurons. The goal of the proposal is to test the specific hypothesis that PE-induced neuroinflammation during adolescence leads to impaired organization and dendritic structures of VTA DA neurons. The results will lead to better treatment strategies of behavior symptoms in individuals with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders caused by PE.
Principal Investigator is Ro-Yuh Shen, PhD, RIA senior research scientist. Funded by RIA’s Howard T. Blane Director’s Award for Development of Innovative Research in the Addictions (BDAA), 2016-17.