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Genes May Alter Alcohol's Effect on Fetus

Study in mice could explain differing outcomes of drinking while pregnant,,,,

WEDNESDAY, April 22 (HealthDay News) -- Genetics may influence the risk of physical and mental problems in babies born to women who drink alcohol during pregnancy, say U.S. researchers.

It's known that drinking while pregnant can be harmful to babies, but not all women who drink give birth to children with noticeable deficits, noted Chris Downing, a research associate at the University of Colorado, and his colleagues.

They gave alcohol to five inbred strains of pregnant female mice and found varying degrees of birth defects among the offspring.

"In other words, certain strains [of mice] were sensitive to some effects of prenatal alcohol and resistant to others," Downing said in a university news release. "The fact that inbred strains differed showed that genetics plays a role."

And, he said, the findings can be applied to humans.

"Since genetic effects on prenatal alcohol phenotypes in mice have been demonstrated, and the mouse and human genomes are remarkably similar, it suggests genetics plays a role in humans as well," Downing said. "Human researchers need to begin to systematically investigate genetic factors mediating susceptibility and resistance to the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure."

The study appears online Wednesday and in the July print issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

More information

The March of Dimes has more about alcohol and pregnancy.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, news release, April 22, 2009

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