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Figuring out fetal alcohol syndrome in fruit flies
Date:2/7/2011

Drinking excess alcohol during pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) due to the damaging effects of alcohol on a developing baby's brain. Despite its harmful effects, pregnant mothers continue to drink alcohol up to 3 in every 1000 babies are born with FAS, which causes intellectual disabilities, behavioural problems, growth defects and abnormal facial features. How alcohol causes these effects is unclear, but researching the problem is difficult because of ethical barriers to studying human fetuses. Ulrike Heberlein and colleagues from the University of California San Francisco decided to study FAS using the fruit fly, a commonly used organism in biological research. Their results establish a new system for studying how alcohol causes harmful effects during development and open the door to further genetic and molecular studies of FAS. Heberlein and colleagues publish their results in Disease Models & Mechanisms on February 8, 2011 at http://dmm.biologists.org/.

When Heberlein and colleagues exposed fruit flies to alcohol during development, they found that the flies grew more slowly, had smaller brains, abnormal behaviour and were more sensitive to the effects of alcohol as adults. They also confirmed previous findings that the problems were caused in part because alcohol interferes with the function of insulin a molecule essential for normal fetal development in the developing brain. Heberlein commented, "It was pretty surprising that so many features of FAS were recapitulated in this model, including some of the molecular mechanisms."

The issue of how much alcohol, if any, a pregnant woman can safely drink and during which trimester has been hotly debated. As expected, Heberlein and colleagues found that greater amounts of alcohol had more severe effects on fly development and behaviour. More surprisingly, they found that exposure to alcohol later during a fly's development wa
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Contact: Sarah Allan
sarah.allan@biologists.com
The Company of Biologists
Source:Eurekalert

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