Ethanol exposure disrupts extraembryonic microtubule cytoskeleton and embryonic blastomere cell adhesion, producing epiboly and gastrulation defects

Biol Open. 2013 Aug 14;2(10):1013-21. doi: 10.1242/bio.20135546. eCollection 2013.


Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) occurs when pregnant mothers consume alcohol, causing embryonic ethanol exposure and characteristic birth defects that include craniofacial, neural and cardiac defects. Gastrulation is a particularly sensitive developmental stage for teratogen exposure, and zebrafish is an outstanding model to study gastrulation and FASD. Epiboly (spreading blastomere cells over the yolk cell), prechordal plate migration and convergence/extension cell movements are sensitive to early ethanol exposure. Here, experiments are presented that characterize mechanisms of ethanol toxicity on epiboly and gastrulation. Epiboly mechanisms include blastomere radial intercalation cell movements and yolk cell microtubule cytoskeleton pulling the embryo to the vegetal pole. Both of these processes were disrupted by ethanol exposure. Ethanol effects on cell migration also indicated that cell adhesion was affected, which was confirmed by cell aggregation assays. E-cadherin cell adhesion molecule expression was not affected by ethanol exposure, but E-cadherin distribution, which controls epiboly and gastrulation, was changed. E-cadherin was redistributed into cytoplasmic aggregates in blastomeres and dramatically redistributed in the extraembryonic yolk cell. Gene expression microarray analysis was used to identify potential causative factors for early development defects, and expression of the cell adhesion molecule protocadherin-18a (pcdh18a), which controls epiboly, was significantly reduced in ethanol exposed embryos. Injecting pcdh18a synthetic mRNA in ethanol treated embryos partially rescued epiboly cell movements, including enveloping layer cell shape changes. Together, data show that epiboly and gastrulation defects induced by ethanol are multifactorial, and include yolk cell (extraembryonic tissue) microtubule cytoskeleton disruption and blastomere adhesion defects, in part caused by reduced pcdh18a expression.

Keywords: Cell adhesion; Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder; Gastrulation; Zebrafish.