Alcohol exposure in utero is a common cause of mental retardation, but the targets and mechanisms of action are poorly understood. Several lines of data point toward alterations in cortical connectivity, suggesting that axon guidance may be vulnerable to alcohol exposure. To test this, we asked whether ethanol directly affects cortical axonal growth cone responses to guidance cues. We find that even low concentrations of ethanol (12.5 mM; 57.2 mg/dl) commonly observed in social drinking prevent growth cone responses to three mechanistically independent guidance cues, Semaphorin3A, Lysophosphatidic Acid, and Netrin-1. However, this effect is highly dependent on substrate; axonal growth cones extending on an L1 cell adhesion molecule (L1CAM) substrate retain responsiveness to cues following exposure to ethanol, while those growing on poly-L-lysine or N-cadherin do not. The effects of ethanol on axon extension are, by contrast, quite modest. Quantitative assessments of the effects of ethanol on the surface distribution of L1CAM in growth cones suggest that L1CAM homophilic interactions may be particularly relevant for retaining growth cone responsiveness following ethanol exposure. Together, our findings indicate that ethanol can directly and generally alter growth cone responses to guidance cues, that a substrate of L1CAM effectively antagonizes this effect, and that cortical axonal growth cone vulnerability to ethanol may be predicted in part based on the environment through which they are extending.
Copyright © 2011 IBRO. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.