While cerebral underdevelopment is a hallmark of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), the mechanism(s) guiding the broad cortical neurodevelopmental deficits are not clear. DNA methylation is known to regulate early development and tissue specification through gene regulation. Here, we examined DNA methylation in the onset of alcohol-induced cortical thinning in a mouse model of FASD. C57BL/6 (B6) mice were administered a 4% alcohol (v/v) liquid diet from embryonic (E) days 7–16, and their embryos were harvested at E17, along with isocaloric liquid diet and lab chow controls. Cortical neuroanatomy, neural phenotypes, and epigenetic markers of methylation were assessed using immunohistochemistry, Western blot, and methyl-DNA assays. We report that cortical thickness, neuroepithelial proliferation, and neuronal migration and maturity were found to be deterred by alcohol at E17. Simultaneously, DNA methylation, including 5-methylcytosine (5mC) and 5-hydroxcylmethylcytosine (5hmC), which progresses as an intrinsic program guiding normal embryonic cortical development, was severely affected by in utero alcohol exposure. The intricate relationship between cortical thinning and this DNA methylation program disruption is detailed and illustrated. DNA methylation, dynamic across the multiple cortical layers during the late embryonic stage, is highly disrupted by fetal alcohol exposure; this disruption occurs in tandem with characteristic developmental abnormalities, ranging from structural to molecular. Finally, our findings point to a significant question for future exploration: whether epigenetics guides neurodevelopment or whether developmental conditions dictate epigenetic dynamics in the context of alcohol-induced cortical teratogenesis.
- Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)
- Neurodevelopmental deficit
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Health(social science)
- Behavioral Neuroscience