Publication Date



International Journal of Molecular Sciences


Prenatal alcohol exposure can cause developmental abnormalities (fetal alcohol spectrum disorders; FASD), including small eyes, face and brain, and neurobehavioral deficits. These cannot be detected early in pregnancy with available imaging techniques. Early diagnosis could facilitate development of therapeutic interventions. Banked human fetal brains and eyes at 9−22 weeks’ gestation were paired with maternal blood samples, analyzed for morphometry, protein, and RNA expression, and apoptotic signaling. Alcohol (EtOH)-exposed (maternal self-report) fetuses were compared with unexposed controls matched for fetal age, sex, and maternal race. Fetal brain-derived exosomes (FB-E) were isolated from maternal blood and analyzed for protein, RNA, and apoptotic markers. EtOH use by mothers, assessed by self-report, was associated with reduced fetal eye diameter, brain size, and markers of synaptogenesis. Brain caspase-3 activity was increased. The reduction in eye and brain sizes were highly correlated with amount of EtOH intake and caspase-3 activity. Levels of several biomarkers in FB-E, most strikingly myelin basic protein (MBP; r > 0.9), correlated highly with morphological abnormalities. Reduction in FB-E MBP levels was highly correlated with EtOH exposure (p < 1.0 × 10−10). Although the morphological features of FAS appear long before they can be detected by live imaging, FB-E in the mother’s blood may contain markers, particularly MBP, that predict FASD.


Pregnancy, Humans, Female, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, Caspase 3, Exosomes, Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects, Ethanol, Mothers, Early Diagnosis


PMID: 36613580



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.