Page URL: https://www.bionews.org.uk/page_93060

Could drinking while pregnant harm your baby's DNA?

11 July 2011
Appeared in BioNews 615

Alcohol can cause irreparable DNA damage and fetal abnormalities in pregnant mice, a study has found. The findings may explain how excessive drinking during pregnancy causes fetal alcohol syndrome, which can lead to lifelong learning disabilities.

The study is the first showing how excess alcohol can damage DNA, according to a Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) press release.

'We have long suspected that alcohol causes DNA damage but there has not until now been any direct evidence to support this. This is the first direct evidence that alcohol can cause DNA mutations', Dr Ketan Patel, group leader at the MRC LMB in Cambridge, UK and lead study author, said in The Independent.

Dr Patel's team found cells are normally protected from damaging effects of alcohol by enzymes produced by the Aldh2 gene that break down the chemical acetaldehyde, a toxic product of alcohol. If this fails, acetaldehyde builds up and can damage DNA, but enzymes from the Fancd2 gene, called Fanconi proteins, can repair this DNA damage.

Pregnant mice genetically modified to lack both of these defence mechanisms were extremely sensitive to alcohol. If their fetuses were also lacking both genes, they were less likely to survive to birth if exposed to alcohol. Forty-three percent of the surviving fetuses had eye abnormalities and 29 percent had brain defects reminiscent of fetal alcohol syndrome.

Unlike these mice, in most people the two defence mechanisms are working normally. The next step of this research would be to see what role DNA damage is playing in fetal alcohol syndrome in humans.

'Our work suggests that binge drinking could generate enough acetaldehyde to overwhelm the body's two natural defence mechanisms. This new knowledge transforms our view of precisely how excess alcohol causes damage - ultimately changing our DNA', said Dr Patel.

The research also has implications for people with Fanconi anaemia, a rare disease caused by mutations in the Fancd2 gene where people lack functional Fanconi proteins. These people are at high risk of DNA damage from acetaldehyde which, the authors suggest, may explain their increased susceptibility to blood disorders and cancer.

This research was published in the journal Nature.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Alcohol damages DNA of unborn children beyond repair, says study
The Independent |  6 July 2011
Alcohol 'may damage a baby's DNA'
NHS Choices |  7 July 2011
Binge drinking damages DNA for good
Times of India |  7 July 2011
Fancd2 counteracts the toxic effects of naturally produced aldehydes in mice
Nature |  7 July 2011
In vivo role for Fanconi Anaemia DNA repair pathway identified and its surprising connection to alcohol metabolism
MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge press release |  7 July 2011
RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE
8 January 2018 - by Charlott Repschlager 
Drinking alcohol damages blood stem cells by altering their DNA, raising the risk of developing cancer, scientists have found.
1 September 2014 - by Dr Linda Wijlaars 
Mice lacking a gene called NF1 are less prone to excessive drinking in an animal model, scientists have found. When the researchers looked at the same gene in humans, they found that variations in NF1 are linked with increased risk and severity of alcoholism...
14 July 2014 - by Dr Nicoletta Charolidi 
Even light alcohol consumption is a risk for cardiovascular health, a genetic study has found, contradicting previous reports that moderate drinking can be beneficial for the heart...
17 December 2012 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
The fourth session the Progress Educational Trust's annual conference 2012 'Fertility Treatment: A Life-Changing Event?' continued the day's critical perspective looking at the evidential basis for the impact of lifestyle factors on the outcome of fertility treatment and resulting children. This time it was the impact of alcohol and smoking that came under scrutiny...
1 March 2010 - by Dr Colin Gavaghan 
It is no surprise that the recently published research into the epigenetic effects of alcohol consumption during pregnancy has received considerable media attention. Practically all pregnant women will worry - understandably - about the health of their future children, and will quickly seize on information or reassurance from credible-seeming sources - a fact well recognised by our commercially-motivated press...
25 January 2010 - by Dr Charlotte Maden 
New research has shown that drinking during pregnancy can cause permanent genetic changes to the DNA of the developing fetus. The findings, published in the journal PLoS Genetics, may aid in the development of a diagnosis for fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)....
22 October 2009 - by Ben Jones 
A study conducted by researchers at the Harvard Medical School, US, has suggested that consumption of alcohol may be detrimental to chances of success in IVF treatment. Consumption of just six units of alcohol a week by both partners reduced the probability of conception by 26 per cent. The study particularly singled out apparent detrimental effects to drinking white wine in women and drinking beer for the male partners. In those women whose partner dran...
26 August 2008 - by Katy Sinclair 
By Katy Sinclair: Researchers studying Australian groups of twins have established a link between heavy alcohol use and delayed pregnancy, in findings to be published in the journal 'Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research'. Mary Waldron, assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine and corresponding author of the...
15 August 2005 - by BioNews 
A gene discovered in fruit flies may help researchers understand the genetic basis of alcoholism in humans. Scientists at the University of California in San Francisco (UCSF) and the University of Wurzburg in Germany have found a gene that helps fruit flies tolerate alcohol. If a similar gene exists in...
HAVE YOUR SAY
Log in to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions


Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.