Ethanol exposure during pregnancy persistently attenuates cranially directed blood flow in the developing fetus: evidence from ultrasound imaging in a murine second trimester equivalent model

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2012 May;36(5):748-58. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2011.01676.x. Epub 2011 Dec 5.


Background: Ethanol (EtOH) consumption during pregnancy can lead to fetal growth retardation, mental retardation, and neurodevelopmental delay. The fetal brain initiates neurogenesis and vasculogenesis during the second trimester, and depends on maternal-fetal circulation for nutrition and growth signals. We used high-resolution in vivo ultrasound imaging to test the hypothesis that EtOH interferes with fetal brain-directed blood flow during this critical developmental period.

Methods: Pregnant mice were lightly anesthetized on gestational day 12 with an isoflurane/oxygen mixture. We assessed the effect of single and repeated binge-like maternal EtOH exposures at 3 g/kg, administered by intragastric gavage or intraperitoneal injection, on maternal circulation and fetal umbilical, aortic, internal carotid, and middle cerebral arterial circulation.

Results: Binge maternal EtOH exposure, regardless of exposure route, significantly reduced fetal arterial blood acceleration and velocity time integral (VTI), from umbilical to cerebral arteries, without a change in fetal heart rate and resistivity indices. Importantly a single maternal binge EtOH exposure induced persistent suppression of fetal arterial VTI for at least 24 hours. Repeated binge episodes resulted in a continuing and persistent suppression of fetal VTI. Qualitative assessments showed that maternal EtOH exposure induced oscillatory, nondirectional blood flow in fetal cerebral arteries. Maternal cardiac and other physiological parameters remained unaltered.

Conclusions: These data show that binge-type maternal EtOH exposure results in rapid and persistent loss of blood flow from the umbilical artery to the fetal brain, potentially compromising nutrition and the maternal/fetal endocrine environment during a critical period for neuron formation and angiogenesis in the maturing brain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects
  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / administration & dosage
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / adverse effects*
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / blood
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / drug effects*
  • Ethanol / administration & dosage
  • Ethanol / adverse effects*
  • Ethanol / blood
  • Female
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / etiology*
  • Fetus / blood supply
  • Fetus / drug effects*
  • Head / blood supply
  • Hemodynamics / drug effects
  • Injections, Intraperitoneal
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects
  • Mice
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Second
  • Respiration / drug effects
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Ethanol