Binge drinking during adolescent development can have long-lasting effects in the brain, and recent data shows that these effects may directly impact first-generation offspring. These observations could have consequences for human

health as more than 4.5 million Americans under the age of 21 report engaging in binge-pattern alcohol abuse.

"Our animal study demonstrates that drinking large quantities of alcohol in a 'binge' fashion before pregnancy can impact future offspring," said the study's senior author, Toni Pak, Ph.D., of Loyola University Chicago in Maywood, Ill. "Importantly, this is true for drinking behaviors of both parents, not just the mother. Our previous data supports the idea that alcohol is affecting the parental sperm and eggs to induce these modifications in the offspring, but this most recent work shows the extent of those effects on social behavior, pubertal maturation, and stress hormones as the offspring grow to adulthood."

Researchers found that a rat model of binge-pattern drinking during puberty had several consequences for the animals' offspring, including smaller body weight, fewer play behaviors, and decreased circulating testosterone. In addition, the parents did not pass down to the offspring any adaptive traits that allowed them to better tolerate alcohol.

"By better understanding which parental preconception behaviors impact future generations, we can do more to prevent their perpetuation," Pak said.

Other authors of the study include: AnnaDorothea Asimes and Chun Kim of Loyola University Chicago; and Amelia Cuarenta and Anthony Auger of University of Wisconsin -- Madison in Madison, Wis.

The study was supported by research grants from the National Institutes of Health.