Early Prenatal Alcohol Exposure and the Hippocampus

Early Maternal Alcohol Consumption Alters Hippocampal DNA Methylation, Gene Expression and Volume in a Mouse Model” comes from the lab of Dr. Nina Kaminen-Ahola at the University of Helsinki in Finland. For those of you not caught in the niche of FASD epigenomics, while working with Dr. Emma Whitelaw and Dr. Suyinn Chong, she brought forth the first and founding wave of evidence that FASD is an epigenetic disease. My favourite of the papers is from the Agouti FASD mouse model, which paved the way for our understanding of Gene x Environment interaction by offering a model of the non-genetic inheritance of a trait being altered by the environment.

Now in her latest and as a PI, they continue on with their next model: ‘wild-type’ C57BL/6J mice., which is quite similar to our (Singh Lab’s) earlier model of the long-term effects of moderate prenatal alcohol exposure. The main difference is that this models timing is restricted to only the earlier stages of pregnancy and produces some powerful evidence for “no safe time, no safe amount”. They top it off with focusing in on the hippocampus, showing some interesting ethanol induced volume changes via MRI.

At the molecular level, they scanned the transcriptome using expression arrays and then followed up with qPCR confirmations and bisulfite sequencing of the candidate genes across a number of tissues. It’s interesting to see them so focused on a transriptomic approach that lead to their focus on rather different candidates. We’ve always found the epigenomic approach most informative in deciphering the transcriptional mess. However, that might also explain their choice of further investigation into histone variants and is also worth noting that buried in the supplementary (array database) of our epigenomic paper is altered methylation in the histone clusters.

Also of personal interest, was the confirmation of the genes very closely related to what we found in our transcriptomic approach of whole brain, which was interesting to see so faithfully replicated from a shorter exposure window and in a single brain region. The references and comparison to our past work is an honour, as their work has been so fundamental to ours. It’s great to see the science come full circle. And speaking of that, it has a nice press release as well, which drew my attention to their human epiFASD project.