Background: Previous studies have demonstrated individual differences in susceptibility to the detrimental effects of prenatal ethanol exposure. Many factors, including genetic differences, have been shown to play a role in susceptibility and resistance, but few studies have investigated the range of genetic variation in rodent models.
Methods: We examined ethanol teratogenesis in 5 inbred strains of mice: C57BL/6J (B6), Inbred Short-Sleep, C3H/Ibg, A/Ibg, and 129S6/SvEvTac (129). Pregnant dams were intubated with either 5.8 g/kg ethanol (E) or an isocaloric amount of maltose-dextrin (MD) on day 9 of pregnancy. Dams were sacrificed on day 18 and fetuses were weighed, sexed, and examined for gross morphological malformations. Every other fetus within a litter was then either placed in Bouin's fixative for subsequent soft-tissue analyses or eviscerated and placed in ethanol for subsequent skeletal analyses.
Results: B6 mice exposed to ethanol in utero had fetal weight deficits and digit, kidney, brain ventricle, and vertebral malformations. In contrast, 129 mice showed no teratogenesis. The remaining strains showed varying degrees of teratogenesis.
Conclusions: Differences among inbred strains demonstrate genetic variation in the teratogenic effects of ethanol. Identifying susceptible and resistant strains allows future studies to elucidate the genetic architecture underlying prenatal alcohol phenotypes.