While the impact of alcohol consumption by pregnant women on fetal neurodevelopment has received much attention, the effects on the cardiovascular system are not well understood. We hypothesised that repeated exposure to alcohol (ethanol) in utero would alter fetal arterial reactivity and wall stiffness, key mechanisms leading to cardiovascular disease in adulthood. Ethanol (0.75g per kg body weight) was infused intravenously into ewes over one hour daily for 39 days in late pregnancy (days 95-133 of pregnancy, term approximately 147 days). Maternal and fetal plasma ethanol concentrations at the end of the hour were approximately 115mg/dL, and then declined to apparent zero over 8 hours. At necropsy (day 134), fetal body weight and fetal brain-body weight ratio were not affected by alcohol infusion. Small arteries (250-300microm outside diameter) from coronary, renal, mesenteric, femoral (psoas) and cerebral beds were isolated. Endothelium-dependent vasodilation sensitivity was reduced 10-fold in coronary resistance arteries, associated with a reduction in endothelial nitric oxide synthase mRNA (p=0.008). Conversely, vasodilation sensitivity was enhanced 10-fold in mesenteric and renal resistance arteries. Arterial stiffness was markedly increased (p=0.0001) in all five vascular beds associated with an increase in elastic modulus and, in cerebral vessels, with an increase in collagen Ia1 mRNA. Thus, we show for the first time that fetal arteries undergo marked and regionally variable adaptations as a consequence of repeated alcohol exposure. These alcohol-induced vascular effects occurred in the apparent absence of fetal physical abnormalities or fetal growth restriction.
Parkington, H. C., Kenna, K. R., Sozo, F., Coleman, H. A., Bocking, A., Brien, J. F., Harding, R. L., Walker, D. W., Morley, R., & Tare, M. (2014). Maternal alcohol consumption in pregnancy enhances arterial stiffness and alters vasodilator function that varies between vascular beds in fetal sheep. The Journal of Physiology, 592(12), 2591 - 2603. https://doi.org/10.1113/jphysiol.2013.262873