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Alcohol exposure during late gestation: multiple developmental outcomes in sheep

  • K. Kenna (a1), F. Sozo (a1), R. De Matteo (a1), T. Hanita (a1), S. P. Gray (a1), M. Tare (a2), K. Moritz (a3), J. F. Bertram (a1), M. Jane Black (a1), J. F. Brien (a4), H. C. Parkington (a2), D. W. Walker (a5) and R. Harding (a1)...


Alcohol consumption during pregnancy remains common in many countries. Exposure to even low amounts of alcohol (i.e. ethanol) in pregnancy can lead to the heterogeneous fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), while heavy alcohol consumption can result in the fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). FAS is characterized by cerebral dysfunction, growth restriction and craniofacial malformations. However, the effects of lower doses of alcohol during pregnancy, such as those that lead to FASD, are less well understood. In this article, we discuss the findings of recent studies performed in our laboratories on the effects of fetal alcohol exposure using sheep, in which we investigated the effects of late gestational alcohol exposure on the developing brain, arteries, kidneys, heart and lungs. Our studies indicate that alcohol exposure in late gestation can (1) affect cerebral white matter development and increase the risk of hemorrhage in the fetal brain, (2) cause left ventricular hypertrophy with evidence of altered cardiomyocyte maturation, (3) lead to a decrease in nephron number in the kidney, (4) cause altered arterial wall stiffness and endothelial and smooth muscle function and (5) result in altered surfactant protein mRNA expression, surfactant phospholipid composition and pro-inflammatory cytokine mRNA expression in the lung. These findings suggest that fetal alcohol exposure in late gestation can affect multiple organs, potentially increasing the risk of disease and organ dysfunction in later life.


Corresponding author

*Address for correspondence: Dr K. Kenna, Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, Building 76, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia. Email


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