Alcohol-related birth defects result from acute and chronic insults that perturb sequential developmental programs. The molecular targets of EtOH include G-protein coupled signal transduction pathways. In order to test the hypothesis that G-proteins are involved in EtOH-induced hippocampal teratogenesis, rat pups were administered 3.3 g/kg.day of EtOH on postnatal days (PN) 5 to 7 using the pup-in-a-cup model of third trimester "binge" exposure. This exposure paradigm produced a selective 40% decrease in the 52 kDa isoform of the stimulatory form of the heterotrimeric guanine nucleotide binding protein (G alpha s) in the hippocampus on PN 7 with no significant changes in the levels of G alpha i or G alpha o. Immunohistochemistry demonstrated that this decrease occurred in the somas of both hippocampal pyramidal cells and granule cells of the dentate gyrus. Computer-assisted cell counting indicates that this decrease was not due to pyramidal cell death on PN 7. Northern and slot blot analysis demonstrated a 30% decrease in G alpha s messenger RNA in the hippocampus. These results suggest that EtOHs teratogenic effects in the hippocampus may involve disruption of G alpha s-coupled signal transduction pathways, which are critical for normal synaptogenesis, neurotransmitter signaling and the integration of these signals with growth factor signaling pathways.