Alcohol Exposure During Pregnancy May Affect Multiple Generations

First Posted: Feb 23, 2016 06:58 PM EST

Alcohol exposure during pregnancy doesn't just affect a future child's health. According to researchers at Binghamton University, it also affects the next three generations, who may be at an increased risk of developing alcoholism.

Researchers gave pregnant rats the equivalent of one glass of wine, four days in a row, at gestational days 17-20, which is the equivalent of the second trimester in humans. Then, they tested juvenile male and female offspring were then tested for water or alcohol consumption and adolescent males were tested for sensitivity to alcohol when they were injected with a high-alcohol dose, causing them to be unresponsive and measuring the time it took them to recover their senses.

"Our findings show that in the rat, when a mother consumes the equivalent of one glass of wine four times during the pregnancy, her offspring and grand-offspring, up to the third generation, show increased alcohol preference and less sensitivity to alcohol," said Nicole Cameron, assistant professor of psychology at Binghamton University, in a news release. "Thus, the offspring are more likely to develop alcoholism. This paper is the first to demonstrate trans-generational effects of alcohol consumption during pregnancy on alcohol-related behavior in offspring."

To date, no study has shown a transgenerational effect of prenatal ethanol exposure on ethanol consumption in the second or third generation. Other research investigated the effects of alcohol exposure during pregnancy studied the effects only on the fetuses directly exposed or the effects on cellular activity over multiple generations, but never alcohol-related behaviors over multiple generations.

Cameron and her team recently received a National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism grant to continue the research on the transgenerational effects of gestational alcohol exposure.

"We now need to identify how this effect is pass through multiple generations by investigating the effects alcohol has on the genome and epigenome (molecules that control gene translation)," said Cameron.

The study is published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

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