BETHESDA, Md. (August 11, 2008) − In a study on fetal alcohol syndrome, researchers were able to prevent the damage that alcohol causes to cells in a key area of the fetal brain by blocking acid sensitive potassium channels and preventing the acidic environment that alcohol produces. The cerebellum, the portion of the brain that is responsible for balance and muscle coordination, is particularly vulnerable to injury from alcohol during development.
The researchers also found that although alcohol lowers the amount of oxygen in the blood of the mother, it is not the lack of oxygen that damages the fetal cerebellum, but the drop in pH.
The study with sheep, published in the August issue of the American Journal of Physiology, demonstrated that the damage can be prevented by blocking acid sensitive potassium channels, known as TASK channels, that lead into the Purkinje cells. The study, "Acid Sensitive Channel Inhibition Prevents Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Cerebellar Purkinje Cell Loss," was carried out by Jayanth Ramadoss, Emilie R. Lunde, Nengtai Ouyang, Wei-Jung A. Chen and Timothy A. Cudd. The research was done at Texas A&M University.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Fetal alcohol syndrome is a condition in which maternal drinking during pregnancy injures the brain of the developing fetus. Alcohol is the most common cause of injury to the fetal brain. Children born with fetal alcohol syndrome may have cognitive impairments and difficulty regulating their behavior. They often have difficulty in school and exhibit behavioral problems, such as impulsiveness, later in life.
The syndrome is estimated to occur in approximately one in every 1,000 births in Western countries. Milder forms of the condition, known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, occur more frequently.
Maternal drinking lowers the blood pH of both the mother and the fetus, making the blood more acidic. The researchers hypothesize
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American Physiological Society