The effect of low-to-moderate-dose ethanol consumption on rat mammary gland structure and function and early postnatal growth of offspring

Megan Elizabeth Probyn, Emma-Kate LOCK Lock, Stephen T Anderson, Sarah Walton, John Frederick Bertram, Mary E Wlodek, Karen Margaret Moritz

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High levels of alcohol consumption during pregnancy can lead to growth deficits in early postnatal life. However, the effects of low-to-moderate alcohol consumption during pregnancy are less clearly defined. The aim of this study was to determine whether low-to-moderate ethanol (EtOH) consumption throughout pregnancy in the rat alters maternal mammary gland morphology and milk protein levels, thereby affecting lactation and the growth of pups after birth. Sprague-Dawley rats were fed an ad libitum liquid diet +/- 6 vol/vol EtOH throughout pregnancy. Mammary glands from dams were collected at embryonic day (E) 20 or postnatal day (PN) 1, and expression of milk proteins (alpha-lactalbumin, beta-casein, and whey acidic protein) was examined. In addition, relative amounts of alveoli, lactiferous ducts, adipose tissue, and blood vessels were determined at PN1. A subset of rats gave birth, and offspring growth and milk intake were recorded. Mammary gland weight was unaltered by EtOH, and stereological analysis showed no differences in gland structure compared with control. Although there were no significant changes in mammary gland gene expression at the RNA level, protein levels of alpha-lactalbumin were increased and whey acidic protein were decreased by EtOH. Offspring of EtOH-fed dams consumed less milk than controls in the lactational period; however, this did not alter their early postnatal growth. Overall, it appears that low-to-moderate-dose prenatal EtOH exposure does not significantly alter mammary gland development but may alter the composition of the various proteins found within the milk in a manner that maintains overall pup growth.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)791 - 798
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Regulatory Integrative and Comparative Physiology
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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