Specific genetic cause of fetal alcohol-related developmental disorders found

hand holding a fetusAlcohol consumption by pregnant women hinders brain development in their children by interfering with the genetic processes that control thyroid hormone levels in the fetal brain, a new animal study found. Results will be presented Wednesday at The Endocrine Society’s 91st Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.

Fetal alcohol exposure—even from moderate drinking during pregnancy—can cause neurodevelopmental disorders, such as emotional behavioral disorders and deficits in learning, memory and speech. There is currently no treatment for these problems, said the author who will present the study results, Laura Sittig, a student at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Past animal research shows that some of these lasting cognitive impairments occur because alcohol consumption during pregnancy decreases the level of maternal thyroid hormones and, therefore, fetal thyroid hormones.

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