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BACKGROUND: Despite the teratogenic effects of alcohol, little is known about the safety of pharmacotherapies such as acamprosate for the treatment of alcohol use disorders in pregnancy. The aims of this study were to investigate, in a mouse model, the effects of maternally administered acamprosate on maternal and neonatal health, offspring neurodevelopment and behaviour, as well as examine whether acamprosate reduces the neurological harm associated with alcohol consumption in pregnancy.
METHODS: Dams were randomly allocated to one of four treatment groups: (i) control (water), (ii) acamprosate (1.6g/L), (iii) alcohol (5% v/v) or (iv) acamprosate and alcohol (1.6g/L; 5% v/v ethanol) and exposed from 2-weeks pre-pregnancy until postpartum day 7. Gestational outcomes including litter size and sex ratio were assessed, in addition to early-life markers of neurodevelopment. At 8 weeks of age, motor coordination, anxiety, locomotion, and memory of the adult offspring were assessed.
RESULTS: Exposure to acamprosate did not affect maternal and birth outcomes (mating success, gestational weight gain, litter size, sex ratio), neonatal outcomes (head and body length, postnatal weight) or neurodevelopmental markers (righting reflex and negative geotaxis). Acamprosate exposure did not affect offspring motor control, locomotion or anxiety, however the effects on short-term memory remain uncertain. Prenatal alcohol exposed offspring exhibited various alterations, such as lower postnatal weight, smaller head (p = 0.04) and body lengths (p = 0.046) at postnatal day 70 (males only), increased negative geotaxis speed (p = 0.03), an increased time spent in the inner zone of the open field (p = 0.02). Acamprosate mitigated the effects of alcohol for negative geotaxis at postnatal day 7 (p = 0.01) and female offspring weight at postnatal day 70 (p = 0.03).
CONCLUSIONS: Overall, we show that prenatal acamprosate exposure was not associated with poor maternal or neonatal health outcomes or impaired neurodevelopment and behaviour. However, acamprosate's effects on short-term memory remain uncertain. We present preliminary evidence to suggest acamprosate displayed some neuroprotective effects against damage caused by in utero alcohol exposure.
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