Background: We have previously demonstrated that ethanol teratogenicity is associated with metallothionein-induced fetal zinc (Zn) deficiency, and that maternal subcutaneous Zn treatment given with ethanol in early pregnancy prevents fetal abnormalities and spatial memory impairments in mice. Here we investigated whether dietary Zn supplementation throughout pregnancy can also prevent ethanol-related dysmorphology.
Methods: Pregnant mice were injected with saline or 25% ethanol (0.015 ml/g intraperitoneally at 0 and 4 hours) on gestational day (GD) 8 and fed either a control (35 mg Zn/kg) or a Zn-supplemented diet (200 mg Zn/kg) from GD 0 to 18. Fetuses from the saline, saline + Zn, ethanol and ethanol + Zn groups were assessed for external birth abnormalities on GD 18. In a separate cohort of mice, postnatal growth and survival of offspring from these treatment groups were examined from birth until postnatal day 60.
Results: Fetuses from dams treated with ethanol alone in early pregnancy had a significantly greater incidence of physical abnormalities (26%) compared to those from the saline (10%), saline + Zn (9%), or ethanol + Zn (12%) groups. The incidence of abnormalities in ethanol + Zn-supplemented fetuses was not different from saline-treated fetuses. While ethanol exposure did not affect the number of fetal resorptions or pre- or postnatal weight, there were more stillbirths with ethanol alone, and cumulative postnatal mortality was significantly higher in offspring exposed to ethanol alone (35% deaths) compared to all other treatment groups (13.5 to 20.5% deaths). Mice supplemented with Zn throughout pregnancy had higher plasma Zn concentrations than those in un-supplemented groups.
Conclusions: These findings demonstrate that dietary Zn supplementation throughout pregnancy ameliorates dysmorphology and postnatal mortality caused by ethanol exposure in early pregnancy.