Lectures and seminars CANCELLED: CPF Lunch seminar: Developmental origins of health and disease: A translational approach to understanding Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)
Speaker: Prof. Joanne Weinberg, Department of Cellular & Physiological Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC Canada
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is an umbrella term describing the broad range of effects in individuals exposed to alcohol in utero. It is estimated that more than 30% of women consume alcohol at some point during pregnancy, and that 25% of newborns (for example, 100,000 infants/year in Canada) have experienced some level of alcohol exposure. FASD prevalence has surpassed that of other common disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder and Down syndrome, with an estimated prevalence in the population as high as 1-5%.
Our research has focused largely on understanding mechanisms underlying the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) on neuroendocrine and immune function, stress responsiveness, health, adaptive function and behavior over the life course. Utilizing animal models of PAE, our studies have shown that maternal alcohol intake markedly alters both maternal and offspring endocrine function, with increased basal and stress levels of the stress hormone corticosterone in the pregnant female and alterations in central regulation of the stress system in the offspring that parallel in many ways those seen in depression and anxiety.
Indeed, we have reported increased depressive- and anxiety-like behaviors in PAE males and females compared to their control counterparts. Not surprisingly, given the pervasive effects of alcohol on the brain, and the intimate bidirectional communication among the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems, we have also demonstrated significant alterations in immune function and health in PAE compared to control animals.
Exposure to alcohol in utero results in altered immune cell responses to stimulation, increased and prolonged inflammation following an arthritis challenge, and an overall pro-inflammatory bias that increases vulnerability to immune and stress challenges from birth into adulthood. Of note, we have begun to translate our animal model studies on health and immune function to the clinical domain. We are the first to identify links among maternal alcohol consumption, inflammation, and child outcomes.
We identified unique immune (cytokine) signatures in pregnant women in association with whether or not they consumed alcohol and with neurodevelopmental outcomes of their children. Similarly, analysis of cytokine profile in the children revealed different signatures associated with both alcohol exposure and neurodevelopmental delay. We are currently extending this work to examine the effects of maternal alcohol consumption on immune function, health and neurobehavioral outcomes in populations of pregnant women, as well as infants, children, and adults exposed to alcohol in utero, a critical but understudied area in the FASD field.