Dangers of Drinking

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Study finds that alcohol during pregnancy increases baby’s brain activity, risk for seizures.
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Compared to the general population, individuals whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy have a 3 to 20 times increased likelihood of developing seizures.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is the leading preventable cause of intellectual disability in the western world. It encompasses all of the conditions that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy, including stunted growth and seizures. Little is known about how alcohol exposure during this critical time in a baby’s development leads to physical and behavioural problems after their birth.
Using advanced electrophysiological techniques, Krembil Senior Scientist Dr. Peter Carlen and his research team evaluated the effects of first trimester alcohol exposure on brain activity, specifically in the hippocampus. They targeted the hippocampus because it is the well-documented epicentre of seizure activity in the brain, it plays a critical role in learning and memory, and it is highly susceptible to the toxic effects of alcohol.
The study team found that moderate alcohol exposure during early pregnancy led to increased electrical activity in the hippocampus, similar to that observed in models of epilepsy and dementia. Thus, the inability to maintain excitatory/inhibitory balance may contribute to the increased risk for seizures and memory deficits in FASD patients.
“The first trimester is a time when women may consume alcohol before knowing that they are pregnant,” comments Dr. Carlen. “Our findings suggest that women should refrain from drinking alcohol if there is a chance that they are pregnant.”
This work was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, NeuroDevNet, and the Toronto General & Western Hospital Foundation. G Zoidl holds a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience.
Hippocampal hyperexcitability in fetal alcohol spectrum disorder: pathological sharp waves and excitatory/inhibitory synaptic imbalance. Krawczyk M, Ramani M, Dian J, Florez CM, Mylvaganam S, Brien J, Reynolds J, Kapur B, Zoidl G, Poulter MO, Carlen PL. Experimental Neurology. 2016 Mar 17. doi: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2016.03.013 [Pubmed abstract]