Over 500,000 women per year in the United States drink during pregnancy, and 1 in 5 of this population also binge drink. As high as 20-50% of live-born children with prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) present with congenital heart defects including outflow and valvuloseptal anomalies that can be life-threatening. Previously we established a model of PAE (modeling a single binge drinking episode) in the avian embryo and used optical coherence tomography (OCT) imaging to assay early-stage cardiac function/structure and late-stage cardiac defects. At early stages, alcohol/ethanol-exposed embryos had smaller cardiac cushions and increased retrograde flow. At late stages, they presented with gross morphological defects in the head and chest wall, and also exhibited smaller or abnormal atrio-ventricular (AV) valves, thinner interventricular septae (IVS), and smaller vessel diameters for the aortic trunk branches. In other animal models, the methyl donor betaine (found naturally in many foods such as wheat bran, quinoa, beets and spinach) ameliorates neurobehavioral deficits associated with PAE but the effects on heart structure are unknown. In our model of PAE, betaine supplementation led to a reduction in gross structural defects and appeared to protect against certain types of cardiac defects such as ventricular septal defects and abnormal AV valvular morphology. Furthermore, vessel diameters, IVS thicknesses and mural AV leaflet volumes were normalized while the septal AV leaflet volume was increased. These findings highlight the importance of betaine and potentially methylation levels in the prevention of PAE-related birth defects which could have significant implications for public health.
Ganga Karunamuni, Shi Gu, Yong Qiu Doughman, Megan M. Sheehan, Pei Ma, Lindsy M. Peterson, Kersti K. Linask, Michael W. Jenkins, Andrew M. Rollins, and Michiko Watanabe, "Betaine supplementation reduces congenital defects after prenatal alcohol exposure
(Conference Presentation)," Proc. SPIE 9716, Optical Methods in Developmental Biology IV, 971602 (Presented at SPIE BiOS: February 13, 2016; Published: 27 April 2016); https://doi.org/10.1117/12.2214191.4848767648001.
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