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Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Neuroscience and Behavior

Year Degree Awarded

2016

Month Degree Awarded

September

First Advisor

Heather N. Richardson

Subject Categories

Behavioral Neurobiology | Developmental Neuroscience | Other Neuroscience and Neurobiology

Abstract

Alcohol binge drinking is highly prevalent in teenagers and is associated with various harmful health effects and social problems. During adolescence, brain regions such as the prefrontal cortex (PFC) are still undergoing active development, characterized by increases in white matter volume. While the morphological details and the cellular and molecular sequences governing adolescent white matter development are not fully known, it is known that this development process is sensitive and can be disrupted. Although consumption of alcohol in a binge drinking pattern has been linked to lower white matter integrity in humans, it is important to determine if alcohol is causing this change or if predisposing factors can influence drinking. A rodent model of voluntary binge drinking was used to elicit high alcohol intake during a short developmental window in adolescence. Myelin was then assessed using several histochemical measures. Results showed that adolescent development is marked by an increase in myelinated fibers in the PFC that accompanied an increase in conduction velocity, and alcohol reduces prefrontal white matter and myelinated fiber density. In addition, heavy drinking was associated with long-term cognitive deficits. I also investigated sex differences in the effects of adolescent alcohol consumption on PFC myelination, showing that males appear to be more vulnerable than females. The findings altogether increase our understanding of the developmental process of prefrontal myelination in adolescence and the maladaptive effects alcohol can have on this critical process.

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