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Concept: Fetal alcohol syndrome


Observational studies have generated conflicting evidence on the effects of moderate maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy on offspring cognition mainly reflecting problems of confounding. Among mothers who drink during pregnancy fetal alcohol exposure is influenced not only by mother’s intake but also by genetic variants carried by both the mother and the fetus. Associations between children’s cognitive function and both maternal and child genotype at these loci can shed light on the effects of maternal alcohol consumption on offspring cognitive development.

Concepts: Psychology, Pregnancy, Infant, Embryo, Cognitive psychology, Cognition, Mother, Fetal alcohol syndrome


Prenatal ethanol exposure is the leading preventable cause of congenital mental disability. Whereas a diagnosis of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) requires identification of a specific pattern of craniofacial dysmorphology, most individuals with behavioral and neurological sequelae of heavy prenatal ethanol exposure do not exhibit these defining facial characteristics. Here, a novel integration of MRI and dense surface modeling-based shape analysis was applied to characterize concurrent face-brain phenotypes in C57Bl/6J fetuses exposed to ethanol on gestational day (GD)7 or GD8.5. The facial phenotype resulting from ethanol exposure depended upon stage of insult and was predictive of unique patterns of corresponding brain abnormalities. Ethanol exposure on GD7 produced a constellation of dysmorphic facial features characteristic of human FAS, including severe midfacial hypoplasia, shortening of the palpebral fissures, an elongated upper lip, and deficient philtrum. In contrast, ethanol exposure on GD8.5 caused mild midfacial hypoplasia and palpebral fissure shortening, a shortened upper lip, and a preserved philtrum. These distinct, stage-specific facial phenotypes were associated with unique volumetric and shape abnormalities of the septal region, pituitary, and olfactory bulbs. By demonstrating that early prenatal ethanol exposure can cause more than one temporally-specific pattern of defects, these findings illustrate the need for an expansion of current diagnostic criteria to better capture the full range of facial and brain dysmorphology in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

Concepts: Alcohol, Pregnancy, Embryo, Fetus, Upper lip, Fetal alcohol syndrome, Philtrum, Palpebral fissure


Alcohol consumption in western pregnant women is not uncommon and could be a risk factor for childhood atopic disease. However, reported alcohol intake may be unreliable, and associations are likely to be confounded.

Concepts: Alcohol, Pregnancy, Childbirth, Prenatal development, Fetal alcohol syndrome


The etiology of non-genetic intellectual disability (ID) is not fully known, and we aimed to identify the prenatal, perinatal and neonatal risk factors for ID.

Concepts: Pregnancy, Childbirth, Infant, Fetus, Risk, Breastfeeding, Fetal alcohol syndrome


Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) are difficult to diagnose since many heavily exposed infants, at risk for intellectual disability, do not exhibit craniofacial dysmorphology or growth deficits. Consequently, there is a need for biomarkers that predict disability. In both animal models and human studies, alcohol exposure during pregnancy resulted in significant alterations in circulating microRNAs (miRNAs) in maternal blood. In the current study, we asked if changes in plasma miRNAs in alcohol-exposed pregnant mothers, either alone or in conjunction with other clinical variables, could predict infant outcomes. Sixty-eight pregnant women at two perinatal care clinics in western Ukraine were recruited into the study. Detailed health and alcohol consumption histories, and 2nd and 3rd trimester blood samples were obtained. Birth cohort infants were assessed by a geneticist and classified as unexposed (UE), heavily prenatally exposed and affected (HEa) or heavily exposed but apparently unaffected (HEua). MiRNAs were assessed in plasma samples using qRT-PCR arrays. ANOVA models identified 11 miRNAs that were all significantly elevated in maternal plasma from the HEa group relative to HEua and UE groups. In a random forest analysis classification model, a combination of high variance miRNAs, smoking history and socioeconomic status classified membership in HEa and UE groups, with a misclassification rate of 13%. The RFA model also classified 17% of the HEua group as UE-like, whereas 83% were HEa-like, at least at one stage of pregnancy. Collectively our data indicate that maternal plasma miRNAs predict infant outcomes, and may be useful to classify difficult-to-diagnose FASD subpopulations.

Concepts: Alcohol, Pregnancy, Childbirth, Infant, Prenatal development, Fetus, Breastfeeding, Fetal alcohol syndrome


Alcohol is a teratogen.* Prenatal alcohol exposure is associated with a range of adverse reproductive outcomes and can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) characterized by lifelong physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities. FASDs are completely preventable if a woman does not drink alcohol while pregnant.

Concepts: Pregnancy, Prenatal development, Fetus, Mental retardation, Fetal alcohol syndrome


To investigate the association of prenatal alcohol exposure with balance in10-year-old children.

Concepts: Cohort study, Fetal alcohol syndrome


Children who receive a diagnosis of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder may have a characteristic facial appearance in addition to neurodevelopmental impairment. It is not well understood whether there is a gradient of facial characteristics of children who did not receive a diagnosis of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder but who were exposed to a range of common drinking patterns during pregnancy.

Concepts: Alcohol, Pregnancy, Prenatal development, Fetus, Alcohol abuse, Mental retardation, Fetal alcohol syndrome


To estimate the prevalence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) among young people in youth detention in Australia. Neurodevelopmental impairments due to FASD can predispose young people to engagement with the law. Canadian studies identified FASD in 11%-23% of young people in corrective services, but there are no data for Australia.

Concepts: Law, Australia, Cultural studies, Prevalence, Youth, Fetal alcohol syndrome, Young


Although microcephaly is a feature of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, it is currently unknown whether low-to-moderate prenatal alcohol exposure affects head circumference. Small magnitude associations reported in observational studies are likely to be misleading due to confounding and misclassification biases. Alternative analytical approaches such as the use of family negative controls (e.g. comparing the effects of maternal and paternal exposure) could help disentangle causal effects. We investigated the association of maternal and paternal alcohol drinking before and early in pregnancy with infant head circumference, using data from 68,244 mother-father-offspring trios from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (MoBa) (1999-2009). In analyses adjusted for potential confounders, we found no consistent pattern of association between maternal or paternal alcohol intake before or during pregnancy and offspring head circumference modelled as a continuous outcome. However, we found higher odds of microcephaly at birth for higher paternal, but not maternal, alcohol consumption before pregnancy, and similar but weaker effect estimates for first trimester drinking. Associations with paternal drinking before pregnancy were unexpected and should be regarded as hypothesis generating, until independently replicated, although potentially important given the absence of guidelines on safe drinking levels for men in couples trying for a pregnancy.

Concepts: Alcohol, Pregnancy, Prenatal development, Mental retardation, Mother, Fetal alcohol syndrome, Microcephaly, Recommended maximum intake of alcoholic beverages