Indexed on: 25 Aug '16Published on: 25 Aug '16Published in: PloS one
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), birth defects associated with ethanol exposure in utero, includes a wide spectrum of congenital heart defects (CHDs), the most prevalent of which are septal and conotruncal defects. Zebrafish FASD model was used to dissect the mechanisms underlying FASD-associated CHDs. Embryonic ethanol exposure (3-24 hours post fertilization) led to defects in atrio-ventricular (AV) valvulogenesis beginning around 37 hpf, a morphogenetic event that arises long after ethanol withdrawal. Valve leaflets of the control embryos comprised two layers of cells confined at the compact atrio-ventricular canal (AVC). Ethanol treated embryos had extended AVC and valve forming cells were found either as rows of cells spanning the AVC or as unorganized clusters near the AV boundary. Ethanol exposure reduced valve precursors at the AVC, but some ventricular cells in ethanol treated embryos exhibited few characteristics of valve precursors. Late staged larvae and juvenile fish exposed to ethanol during embryonic development had faulty AV valves. Examination of AVC morphogenesis regulatory networks revealed that early ethanol exposure disrupted the Bmp signaling gradient in the heart during valve formation. Bmp signaling was prominent at the AVC in controls, but ethanol-exposed embryos displayed active Bmp signaling throughout the ventricle. Ethanol exposure also led to mislocalization of Notch signaling cells in endocardium during AV valve formation. Normally, highly active Notch signaling cells were organized at the AVC. In ethanol-exposed embryos, highly active Notch signaling cells were dispersed throughout the ventricle. At later stages, ethanol-exposed embryos exhibited reduced Wnt/β-catenin activity at the AVC. We conclude that early embryonic ethanol exposure alters Bmp, Notch and other signaling activities during AVC differentiation leading to faulty valve morphogenesis and valve defects persist in juvenile fish.