Prenatal ethanol exposure has differential effects on fetal growth and skeletal ossification.

Research paper by M E ME Simpson, S S Duggal, K K Keiver

Indexed on: 22 Mar '05Published on: 22 Mar '05Published in: BONE


There is increasing evidence suggesting that the intrauterine environment may influence long-term bone health and the risk of developing osteoporosis in later life. Alcohol (ethanol) is one factor whose presence in the prenatal environment has long-term consequences for the offspring, including permanent growth retardation. Moreover, prenatal ethanol exposure retards both fetal and postnatal bone development. It is unknown if ethanol's effects on skeletal development result from generalized growth retardation or effects specific to skeletal development. Furthermore, the level of ethanol exposure required to produce skeletal effects is unknown. The objectives of this study were to determine (1) if ethanol exerts specific effects on fetal skeletal development that are independent from its effects on general growth, and (2) the level of prenatal ethanol exposure required to affect fetal growth and skeletal ossification. Rats were fed isocaloric diets with ethanol (15%, 25%, or 36% ethanol-derived calories (EDC), approximating low, moderate, and high exposure levels), or without ethanol (pair-fed, PF, or control, C groups), prior to and throughout 21 days of gestation. The degree of E-induced delay in development was determined by comparison of E fetuses on d21 gestation to C fetuses on d17-d21 gestation. Prenatal ethanol exposure at 36% EDC decreased fetal body weight, length, and skeletal ossification compared with PF and C fetuses on d21 gestation. Importantly, effects on ossification, but not body weight or length, were also seen at the more moderate dose of 25% EDC, and the number of bones affected and the severity of effects on ossification tended to increase with dose of ethanol. Comparison of E fetuses on d21 gestation with C fetuses from d17 to 21 gestation indicated that the ethanol-induced delay in development differed for weight and skeletal ossification, and was not uniform among skeletal sites. Taken together, these data suggest that prenatal ethanol exposure has effects on fetal skeletal development that are independent of those on overall fetal growth, and that these effects occur even at moderate levels of maternal drinking. Effects of prenatal ethanol exposure on fetal skeletal development could potentially increase the offspring's risk of osteoporosis later in life.