Early gestational ethanol exposure in mice: Effects on brain structure, energy metabolism and adiposity in adult offspring

Christine R. Zhang, Nyoman D. Kurniawan, Lisa Yamada, Whitney Fleming, Nina Kaminen-Ahola, Arttu Ahola, Graham Galloway, Suyinn Chong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


We examined whether an early-life event – ethanol exposure in the initial stages of pregnancy – affected offspring brain structure, energy metabolism, and body composition in later life. Consumption of 10% (v/v) ethanol by inbred C57BL/6J female mice from 0.5 to 8.5 days post coitum was used to model alcohol exposure during the first 3–4 weeks of gestation in humans, when pregnancy is not typically recognized. At adolescence (postnatal day [P] 28) and adulthood (P64), the brains of male offspring were scanned ex vivo using ultra-high field (16.4 T) magnetic resonance imaging and diffusion tensor imaging. Energy metabolism and body composition were measured in adulthood by indirect calorimetry and dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA), respectively. Ethanol exposure had no substantial impact on white matter organization in the anterior commissure, corpus callosum, hippocampal commissure, internal capsule, optic tract, or thalamus. Whole brain volume and the volumes of the neocortex, cerebellum, and caudate putamen were also unaffected. Subtle, but non-significant, effects were observed on the hippocampus and the hypothalamus in adult ethanol-exposed male offspring. Ethanol exposure was additionally associated with a trend toward decreased oxygen consumption, carbon dioxide production, and reduced daily energy expenditure, as well as significantly increased adiposity, albeit with normal body weight and food intake, in adult male offspring. In summary, ethanol exposure restricted to early gestation had subtle long-term effects on the structure of specific brain regions in male offspring. The sensitivity of the hippocampus to ethanol-induced damage is reminiscent of that reported by other studies – despite differences in the level, timing, and duration of exposure – and likely contributes to the cognitive impairment that characteristically results from prenatal ethanol exposure. The hypothalamus plays an important role in regulating metabolism and energy homeostasis. Our finding of altered daily energy expenditure and adiposity in adult ethanol-exposed males is consistent with the idea that central nervous system abnormalities also underpin some of the metabolic phenotypes associated with ethanol exposure in pregnancy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
StatePublished - Mar 2019


  • Alcohol
  • Body composition
  • Brain structure
  • Energy metabolism
  • Prenatal


Dive into the research topics of 'Early gestational ethanol exposure in mice: Effects on brain structure, energy metabolism and adiposity in adult offspring'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this