Cognitive deficits associated with teenage drinking may be due to disrupted myelination of prefrontal circuits. To better understand how alcohol affects myelination, male and female Wistar rats (n
= 7–9/sex/treatment) underwent two weeks of intermittent operant self-administration of sweetened alcohol or sweetened water early in adolescence (postnatal days 28–42) and we tested for macro- and microstructural changes to myelin. We previously reported data from the males of this study showing that alcohol drinking reduced myelinated fiber density in layers II–V of the anterior cingulate division of the medial prefrontal cortex (Cg1); herein, we show that myelinated fiber density was not significantly altered by alcohol in females. Alcohol drinking patterns were similar in both sexes, but males were in a pre-pubertal state for a larger proportion of the alcohol exposure period, which may have contributed to the differential effects on myelinated fiber density. To gain more insight into how alcohol impacts myelinated axons, brain sections from a subset of these animals (n
= 6/sex/treatment) were used for microstructural analyses of the nodes of Ranvier. Confocal analysis of nodal domains, flanked by immunofluorescent-labeled contactin-associated protein (Caspr) clusters, indicated that alcohol drinking reduced nodal length-to-width ratios in layers II/III of the Cg1 in both sexes. Despite sex differences in the underlying cause (larger diameter axons after alcohol in males vs. shorter nodal lengths after alcohol in females), reduced nodal ratios could have important implications for the speed and integrity of neural transmission along these axons in both males and females. Alcohol-induced changes to myelinated axonal populations in the Cg1 may contribute to long-lasting changes in prefrontal function associated with early onset drinking.
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