The expression of voltage-gated potassium channels belonging to the Kv3 family has been studied in the sensori-motor cortex of rats exposed to alcohol inhalation during the first postnatal week (P2-P6). The study was carried out using comparative RT-PCR. At P9, a significant reduction of the expression of Kv3.2 and Kv3.4 subunits occurred in alcohol-treated animals, as compared with controls. The expression of the Kv3.4a splicing variant, which is thought to be critically involved in the high-frequency firing of some cortical interneurons, was also correspondingly reduced. The downregulation of Kv3.2 and Kv3.4a subunits represented a long-lasting effect of alcohol exposure, since it was also observed in P24 animals. The expression of both Kv3.1 and Kv3.3 channels appeared to be not significantly affected by alcohol exposure. An increased susceptibility to apoptotic neuronal death after early postnatal exposure to ethanol was confirmed by the lower bcl-2/bax ratio observed in alcohol-treated animals. Although Kv3.4 subunits are thought to trigger apoptosis, the lack of upregulation in our model argues against their involvement in the mechanism leading to alcohol-induced apoptosis. The possible consequences of the selective downregulation of Kv3 subunits on the cortical function, as well as their relevance for the genesis of fetal alcohol effects, are discussed.
- ion channels