Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Why some children are harmed by mother's alcohol, but others aren't

Date:
March 28, 2011
Source:
Northwestern University
Summary:
Why does one woman who drinks alcohol during pregnancy have a child with behavioral or learning problems while another woman who also drinks has a child without these problems? New research shows one answer is a gene variation passed on by the mother to her son. This makes a fetus vulnerable to even moderate alcohol exposure by disrupting the balance of thyroid hormones in the brain. In the future, vulnerable women could be identified and given dietary supplements to correct the problem.

Exposure to alcohol in the womb doesn't affect all fetuses equally. Why does one woman who drinks alcohol during pregnancy give birth to a child with physical, behavioral or learning problems -- known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder -- while another woman who also drinks has a child without these problems?

One answer is a gene variation passed on by the mother to her son, according to new Northwestern Medicine research. This gene variation contributes to a fetus' vulnerability to even moderate alcohol exposure by upsetting the balance of thyroid hormones in the brain.

The Northwestern Medicine study with rats is the first to identify a direct genetic mechanism of behavioral deficits caused by fetal alcohol exposure. The study is published in the FASEB Journal.

"The findings open up the possibility of using dietary supplements that have the potential to reverse or fix the dosage of the thyroid hormones in the brain to correct the problems caused by the alcohol exposure," said Eva E. Redei, senior author of the study and the David Lawrence Stein Professor of Psychiatry at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

"In the not-too-distant future we could identify a woman's vulnerability to alcohol if she is pregnant and target this enzyme imbalance with drugs, a supplement or another method that will increase the production of this enzyme in the hippocampus, which is where it's needed," Redei said.

Efforts to educate pregnant women about the risks of alcohol have not changed the percentage of children born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, Redei noted.

The gene involved, Dio3, makes the enzyme that controls how much active thyroid hormone is in the brain. A delicate balance of the thyroid hormone is critically important in the development of the fetal brain and in the maintenance of adult brain function. Too much of it is as bad as too little.

When males inherit this variation of the Dio3 gene from their mother, they don't make enough of this enzyme in their hippocampus to prevent an excess of thyroid hormones. The resulting overdose of the hormones makes the hippocampus vulnerable to damage by even a moderate amount of alcohol. The rat mothers in the study drank the human equivalent of two to three glasses of wine a day. Their male offspring showed deficits in social behavior and memory similar to humans whose mothers drank alcohol.

The alcohol causes the problem by almost completely silencing the father's copy of the Dio3 gene in animals whose mother has the gene variation. As a result, the offspring don't make enough of this enzyme, disrupting the delicate balance of the thyroid hormone levels. This is an example of an interaction between genetic variation in the DNA sequence, and epigenetics, which is when the environment, such as alcohol in utero, modifies the DNA.

"The identification of this novel mechanism will stimulate more research on other genes that also influence alcohol-related disorders, especially in females," said Laura Sittig, the lead author of the study and a graduate student in Redei's lab.

In the study, the rats' social behavior was measured by putting a pup into a cage with an adult. Normal adult behavior is to lick and smell the pup. The adults exposed to alcohol in utero, however, interacted with the pup half as much as normal. They also forgot where to navigate in a maze that evaluated spatial memory.

"These results show they had social and memory deficits," Redei said. "This indicates the damage to the hippocampus from the alcohol exposure."

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northwestern University. The original article was written by Marla Paul. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. L. J. Sittig, P. K. Shukla, L. B. K. Herzing, E. E. Redei. Strain-specific vulnerability to alcohol exposure in utero via hippocampal parent-of-origin expression of deiodinase-III. The FASEB Journal, 2011; DOI: 10.1096/fj.10-179234

Cite This Page:

Northwestern University. "Why some children are harmed by mother's alcohol, but others aren't." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 March 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110323140249.htm>.
Northwestern University. (2011, March 28). Why some children are harmed by mother's alcohol, but others aren't. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 14, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110323140249.htm
Northwestern University. "Why some children are harmed by mother's alcohol, but others aren't." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110323140249.htm (accessed September 14, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Newsy (Sep. 13, 2014) A U.K. survey found that journalists consumed the most amount of coffee, but that's only the tip of the coffee-related statistics iceberg. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Magic Mushrooms' Could Help Smokers Quit

'Magic Mushrooms' Could Help Smokers Quit

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) In a small study, researchers found that the majority of long-time smokers quit after taking psilocybin pills and undergoing therapy sessions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Fat Shaming' Might Actually Cause Weight Gain

'Fat Shaming' Might Actually Cause Weight Gain

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) A study for University College London suggests obese people who are discriminated against gain more weight than those who are not. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Common Sleeping, Anxiety Pills Linked To Alzheimer's

Common Sleeping, Anxiety Pills Linked To Alzheimer's

Newsy (Sep. 10, 2014) Researchers found commonly prescribed sleeping and anxiety pills such as Xanax and Valium could lead to an increased risk for Alzheimer's disease. Video provided by Newsy
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:
from the past week

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