Moderate developmental alcohol exposure affects decision making and spatial short term memory in zebrafish

Congratulation to Madeleine Cleal who has just published her first article! We were carrying on with some work investigating the effects of moderate amounts developmental alcohol exposure on adult brain and behaviour, using zebrafish as a model organism for fatal alcohol spectrum disorder. Although it is clear that high amounts of alcohol have a negative impact on cognition and indeed, can cause major developmental problems, there is less known (and some controversy) about the effects of lower levels of alcohol. Here, we exposed zebrafish embryos to low levels of alcohol (equivalent to ~1 drink per day during pregnancy in humans) and assessed aspects of their learning and cognition when they were adults. Interestingly, we found that there were no differences in either appetitive (learning to find food) or aversive (learning to escape a shock) learning. However, what we did see what that the exposed fish found it harder to remember which arm of a maze they had visited; in other words, to use their spatial short term memory. This subtle cognitive effect might help us to understand the mechanisms by which low levels of alcohol during early brain development affect behaviour later in life. The paper is forthcoming in Neurotoxicology and Teratology. Well  done Maddie!!