Alcohol exposure during late gestation adversely affects myocardial development with implications for postnatal cardiac function

Joanna Mei Goh, Jonathan G Bensley, Kelly R Kenna, Foula Sozo, Alan D Bocking, James F Brien, David W Walker, Richard Harding, Mary Jane Black

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Background: Prenatal exposure to high levels of ethanol is associated with cardiac malformations, but the effects of lower levels of exposure on the heart are unclear. Our aim was to investigate the effects of daily exposure to ethanol during late gestation, when cardiomyocytes are undergoing maturation, on the developing myocardium. Methods and Results: Pregnant ewes were infused with either ethanol (0.75g/kg) or saline for one hour each day from gestational days 95 to 133 (term 145 days); tissues were collected at 134 d. In sheep, cardiomyocytes mature during late gestation as in humans. Within the left ventricle (LV), cardiomyocyte number was determined using unbiased stereology and cardiomyocyte size and nuclearity determined using confocal microscopy. Collagen deposition was quantified using image analysis. Genes relating to cardiomyocyte proliferation and apoptosis were examined using quantitative real-time PCR. Fetal plasma ethanol concentration reached 0.12g/dL after EtOH infusions. Ethanol exposure induced significant increases in relative heart weight, relative LV wall volume and cardiomyocyte cross-sectional area. Ethanol exposure advanced LV maturation in that the proportion of binucleated cardiomyocytes increased by 12 and the number of mononucleated cardiomyocytes was decreased by a similar amount. Apoptotic gene expression increased in the ethanol-exposed hearts, although there were no significant differences between groups in total cardiomyocyte number or interstitial collagen. Conclusions: Daily exposure to a moderate dose of ethanol in late gestation accelerates the maturation of cardiomyocytes and increases cardiomyocyte and LV tissue volume in the fetal heart. These effects on cardiomyocyte growth may program for long-term cardiac vulnerability.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)H645 - H651
Number of pages32
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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