Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are associated with persistent adaptations in the neurocircuitry involved in motivation, impulse control, and decision-making. The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is thought to play an important role in the cognitive operations implicated in addictive process. The neuronal circuitry of the PFC undergoes reorganization and refinement during adolescence, and insult during this period may result in aberrant neurodevelopment and long-term changes in cognitive functioning that controls decision-making and behavior. Evidence suggests that adolescents are more sensitive to alcohol-related changes, and since these changes are occurring during development, they may lead to PFC dysfunction in adulthood. Binge-like episodic alcohol exposure is common during adolescence and may lead to enduring structural and functional changes in the PFC manifested in behavioral alterations in adulthood. This proposal will use biochemical, morphological, and behavioral procedures to examine the role of epigenetics mechanisms that underlie ethanol-associated changes in PFC structure and function.
The effect of adolescent alcohol exposure on neurodevelopment is highly relevant to public health. The proposed studies will contribute to a better understanding of the maturation of the prefrontal cortex during adolescence, the role of environmental factors such as alcohol that cause epigenetic modifications affecting development, and the altered behavioral responses in adulthood that result from developmental neuroadaptations. These studies will provide novel insight into the neurobiology of alcohol abuse and address the mechanism through which environmental factors may alter neurodevelopment.