Exposure To Alcohol In Early Pregnancy May Cause Lifelong Adult Brain Changes

Dr. Nina Kaminen-Ahola Ph.D. Department of Medical Genetics Faculty of Medicine University of Helsinki Helsinki, FinlandMedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dr. Nina Kaminen-Ahola Ph.D.
Department of Medical Genetics
Faculty of Medicine
University of Helsinki
Helsinki, Finland

Medical Research: What is the background for this study?

Dr. Kaminen-Ahola: The beginning of embryonic development is vulnerable to the effects of  external influences and disruption of these processes can have
long-term effects on development. Our previous study demonstrated, for
the first time, that alcohol exposure in early pregnancy can cause
permanent changes to the epigenetic regulation, gene function and the
appearance of mouse offspring. We discovered increased
DNA-methylation, transcriptional silencing of an epigenetically
sensitive allele Agouti viable yellow (Avy) and darker coat colour in
the offspring. In this study we wanted to see whether alcohol consumed
in early pregnancy causes long-term changes to the epigenome and gene
expression in hippocampus.

According to previous studies the phenotype of offspring in this mouse
model is highly variable, but reminiscent of human FAS with growth
restriction, similar structural changes to corresponding areas of the
face and skull, and hyperactivity. In this study we wanted to
determine the impact of alcohol on the structures of the central
nervous system.

Medical Research: What are the main findings?

Dr. Kaminen-Ahola: We observed that early exposure to alcohol caused subtle changes in  the epigenome and altered the function of several genes in the
hippocampi of adolescent mice. We also detected alcohol-induced
alterations in the brain structure of adult offspring.

Interestingly, we also found out that in addition to hippocampus,
alcohol caused similar changes to gene function in two different
tissues of the infant mouse, bone marrow and the olfactory epithelium
of the snout.

These results support our hypothesis that early gestational ethanol
exposure alters the epigenetic reprogramming of the embryo, which
leads to alterations in gene regulation and embryonic development, and
causes life-long changes in brain structure, function, and behaviour.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Kaminen-Ahola: Our results suggest that alcohol-induced changes in embryonic
development can occur in very early stage of pregnancy. Therefore it
would be good to decrease the alcohol consumption as soon as pregnancy
is planned. It is also important to remember, that this is a mouse,
not a human study. We cannot directly compare our findings in this
mouse model to human.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Kaminen-Ahola: Next we will focus on the asymmetry of brain structures, especially
alcohol-induced alterations in hippocampus. In addition to the mouse
studies we are collecting human samples in a project called epiFASD.
We hope that in the future both mouse model and human samples will
help us understand the molecular mechanisms of gestational ethanol


PLoS One. 2015 May 13;10(5):e0124931. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0124931. eCollection 2015.

Early maternal alcohol consumption alters hippocampal DNA methylation, gene expression and volume in a mouse model.

Marjonen H1, Sierra A2, Nyman A1, Rogojin V3, Gröhn O2, Linden AM4, Hautaniemi S3, Kaminen-Ahola N1.

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MedicalResearch.com Interview with: Dr. Nina Kaminen-Ahola Ph.D. (2015). Exposure To Alcohol In Early Pregnancy May Cause Lifelong Adult Brain Changes 

Last Updated on May 18, 2015 by Marie Benz MD FAAD