Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Possible Genetic Risk For Fetal Alcohol Disorders

Date:
September 26, 2007
Source:
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Summary:
New research in primates suggests that infants and children who carry a certain gene variant may be more vulnerable to the ill effects of fetal alcohol exposure. The study's results may also help to explain why some children of mothers who drink during pregnancy suffer birth defects, while others seem to escape unharmed.

New research in primates suggests that infants and children who carry a certain gene variant may be more vulnerable to the ill effects of fetal alcohol exposure.

Related Articles


Reported Sept. 21 in Biological Psychiatry, the findings represent the first evidence of a genetic risk for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder - a condition that is characterized by profound mental retardation in its most severe form, but which is also associated with deficits in learning, attention, memory and impulse control.

By identifying a genetic marker that might signal susceptibility to these more subtle fetal alcohol-induced problems, the research fills a pressing need, says Mary Schneider, the University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of kinesiology and psychology who led the study.

"The big concern used to be the link between fetal alcohol exposure and mental retardation, but today there is increased concern over behavioral problems in these children," says Schneider. "If this genetic marker could provide a way of recognizing the most vulnerable fetal alcohol-exposed children early in life, perhaps we could help them to live more successful and satisfying lives."

The study's results may also help to explain why some children of mothers who drink during pregnancy suffer birth defects, while others seem to escape unharmed.

"Children who are exposed to alcohol because their mothers drank during pregnancy have varying degrees of problems, and the same is true for monkeys who are exposed to moderate levels of alcohol in utero," says Schneider. "So we know there are other factors involved."

With colleagues at UW-Madison, the University of Toronto and the National Institutes of Health, Schneider investigated two forms of a gene called the serotonin transporter gene promoter, which helps regulate the brain chemical serotonin. Past studies of both people and primates suggest that carriers of a short form of this gene are at increased risk for depression, but only if they also experience adverse life events.

To test whether the gene's short form might also raise the risk of fetal alcohol-induced problems, Schneider's team analyzed data from an ongoing, long-term study into the impacts of moderate fetal alcohol exposure on behavior and brain function in rhesus monkeys. Although fetal alcohol syndrome was first recognized in children of alcoholic mothers, attention has shifted in recent years to moderate drinking because of its potential to affect many more children, says Schneider.

"We know that 60 percent of women of child-bearing age consume alcohol and more than 50 percent of pregnancies are unplanned," she says. "So it doesn't take much to figure out that prenatal exposure to alcohol - at least in the weeks before pregnancy is detected - is substantial."

In line with this, the mother monkeys in the study's experimental group consumed the equivalent of just two alcoholic beverages five times a week during breeding and pregnancy. After the infants were born, the scientists recorded their irritability during a standard battery of developmental tests, measured their reactivity to stress when separated from their mothers at six months for weaning, and determined whether they carried the short or long form of the serotonin transporter gene promoter.

What the researchers found is that fetal alcohol-exposed infants who carried a copy of the short form were more irritable and reactive to stress than either control group infants who weren't exposed to alcohol or those who were exposed but had two copies of the gene's long form. Overall, says Schneider, the results indicate a "substantial interaction" between fetal alcohol exposure and genotype.

She and her colleagues are now conducting additional studies to see if these findings fit a larger pattern of fetal alcohol-induced problems as the monkeys grow up. At the same time, extreme irritability and stress responsiveness in infants can themselves lead to problems, she says.

"If a baby is very irritable and stress reactive, one of the things this can interfere with is the caregiver-infant interaction," she says. "In real life, negative events tend to cluster. So if there's alcohol in the environment, there may also be stress. And then if you have an irritable baby, this all could have cascading effects on the child's psychological development."

Recognizing that complex behaviors are seldom, if ever, governed by a single gene, Schneider and her colleagues are also investigating other gene alleles for their potential to interact with fetal-alcohol exposure and put children at risk.

"Genetics by themselves rarely tell us much, because life experiences may trigger the actual effects of our genetic vulnerabilities," says Schneider. "So the more knowledge we have about the ways that genes interact with environmental factors, the more we can envision interventions early in life to help a vulnerable child."

The study's other authors are Gary Kraemer, University of Toronto-Mississauga; Colleen Moore, UW-Madison; and Timothy Newman and Christina Barr, National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The work was funded by the National Institutes of Health and UW-Madison.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Wisconsin-Madison. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Possible Genetic Risk For Fetal Alcohol Disorders." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 September 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070923193634.htm>.
University of Wisconsin-Madison. (2007, September 26). Possible Genetic Risk For Fetal Alcohol Disorders. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070923193634.htm
University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Possible Genetic Risk For Fetal Alcohol Disorders." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070923193634.htm (accessed December 18, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

UN: Up to One Million Facing Hunger in Ebola-Hit Countries

UN: Up to One Million Facing Hunger in Ebola-Hit Countries

AFP (Dec. 17, 2014) — Border closures, quarantines and crop losses in West African nations battling the Ebola virus could lead to as many as one million people going hungry, UN food agencies said on Wednesday. Duration: 00:52 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
When You Lose Weight, This Is Where The Fat Goes

When You Lose Weight, This Is Where The Fat Goes

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) — Can fat disappear into thin air? New research finds that during weight loss, over 80 percent of a person's fat molecules escape through the lungs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Why Your Boss Should Let You Sleep In

Why Your Boss Should Let You Sleep In

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) — According to research out of the University of Pennsylvania, waking up for work is the biggest factor that causes Americans to lose sleep. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Flu Outbreak Closing Schools in Ohio

Flu Outbreak Closing Schools in Ohio

AP (Dec. 17, 2014) — A wave of flu illnesses has forced some Ohio schools to shut down over the past week. State officials confirmed one pediatric flu-related death, a 15-year-old girl in southern Ohio. (Dec. 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins