To quantify facial shape from MRI data, the study team turned to co-author Peter Hammond, a professor of computational biology at UCL's Institute of Child Health, in London. Hammond invented powerful new techniques for 3D shape analysis that have already proven successful in objectively defining facial shape changes in humans.
In the study, described in the August 22, 2012 issue of the online journal PLOS ONE, Lipinski and Sulik treated one group of mice with alcohol on their seventh day of pregnancy, a time corresponding to the third week of pregnancy in humans. A second group of mice was treated just 36 hours later, approximating the fourth week of human pregnancy. The amount of alcohol given was large, "high doses that most women wouldn't achieve unless they were alcoholic and had a tolerance for alcohol," Sulik said.
Near the end of pregnancy, the fetuses were then imaged at Duke University. These 3D data sets showed individual brain regions, as well as accurate and detailed facial surfaces, from which Hammond and research assistant and co-author Michael Suttie performed shape analyses.
The team found that the earlier alcohol exposure time elicited the classic FAS facial features, including characteristic abnormalities of the upper lip and eyes. What they observed in fetuses exposed just 36 hours later, however, was a surprise. These mice exhibited unique and in some cases opposing facial patterns, such as shortened upper lip, a present philtrum, and the brain, instead of appearing too narrow in the front, appeared wide.
"Overall, the results of our studies show that alcohol can cause more than one pattern of birth defects, and that t
|Contact: Tom Hughes|
University of North Carolina Health Care