Author(s): Zachman RD, Grummer MA
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Abstract The mechanism of the fetal embryopathology resulting from ethanol ingestion during pregnancy is not established. This review summarizes recent research on the interaction of ethanol and vitamin A in models that explore if an interaction between these two compounds might potentially be the mechanism for fetal alcohol syndrome. The rationale for this hypothesis includes the known facts that: (1) in adults, ethanol ingestion alters vitamin A metabolism and tissue distribution; (2) there are many phenotypic similarities between fetal alcohol syndrome and malformations of both vitamin A toxicity and deficiency; and (3) the vitamin A metabolite, retinoic acid (RA), is a potent mediator in embryogenesis and differentiation. One interaction that could possibly alter fetal development is that the synthesis of RA from retinol, catalyzed by alcohol dehydrogenase, might be competitively inhibited by ethanol leading to RA deficiency. Controversy over this hypothesis continues. Another model demonstrates in vivo effects of pregnant rat mother's ethanol consumption on retinol, retinyl ester, RA content, RA receptor (RAR) binding, and the levels of RAR expression in developing fetal organs. The variable responses in this model still need clarification, and specific defects resulting from specific RAR changes have not yet been identified. In a quail embryo model, ethanol treatment mimics vitamin A deficiency, and RA appears to prevent the adverse effects of ethanol. Finally, RA and ethanol reverse or block each other's effects in studies on isolated neuroblastoma cells. Taken together, these experiments show definite interactions between ethanol and vitamin A. Further studies are needed to determine if any of these mechanisms significantly contribute to prenatal ethanol consumption embryopathy; but, clearly this hypothesis is gaining experimental support.
This article was published in Alcohol Clin Exp Res
and referenced in Journal of Antivirals & Antiretrovirals