Changes in the endorphin and serotonin content of rat immune cells during adulthood following maternal exposure to ethanol during pregnancy and lactation

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Lactating and lactating/pregnant rat dams consumed either 3% (vol/vol) ethanol (as the sole source of fluid) between the 1st and 21st days after delivery or 15% (vol/vol) ethanol for 24 h on the 3rd day after delivery. Offspring of ethanol-consuming dams were compared with offspring of untreated control dams. In other groups, offspring of mothers given 3% ethanol during pregnancy were also compared to untreated controls. When the offspring were 2 months of age, endorphin and serotonin contents of immune cells (lymphocytes, granulocytes and monocytes, mast cells of the peritoneal fluid, and lymphocytes of the thymus) were determined by hormone-specific antibodies and flow cytometric as well as confocal microscopic analysis. In rats exposed to ethanol through breast-feeding, endorphin content significantly decreased in thymic cells independent of the alcohol concentration (and duration) during treatment. Each type of peritoneal cell contained significantly more serotonin after 3% alcohol treatment. For the prenatally exposed offspring, serotonin content significantly decreased for both ethanol treatment conditions during pregnancy. Remarkably, one day of exposure to 15% ethanol on the third day of pregnancy was sufficient to induce this enduring change in serotonin content of immune cells of offspring. Considering that endorphin and serotonin are important immunomodulators, these alcohol-induced changes could produce enduring influences on immune function.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-116
Number of pages6
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1 2006



  • Ethanol consumption
  • Imprinting
  • Lactation
  • Pregnancy
  • White blood cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Biochemistry
  • Toxicology
  • Neurology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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