High-throughput transcriptome sequencing identifies candidate genetic modifiers of vulnerability to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2014 Jul;38(7):1874-82. doi: 10.1111/acer.12457. Epub 2014 Jun 24.


Background: Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) is a leading cause of neurodevelopmental disability. Genetic factors can modify vulnerability to FASD, but these elements are poorly characterized.

Methods: We performed high-throughput transcriptional profiling to identify gene candidates that could potentially modify vulnerability to ethanol's (EtOH's) neurotoxicity. We interrogated a unique genetic resource, neuroprogenitor cells from 2 closely related Gallus gallus lines having well-characterized robust or attenuated EtOH responses with respect to intracellular calcium mobilization and CaMKII/β-catenin-dependent apoptosis. Samples were not exposed to EtOH prior to analysis.

Results: We identified 363 differentially expressed genes in neuroprogenitors from these 2 lines. Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes analysis revealed several gene clusters having significantly differential enrichment in gene expression. The largest and most significant cluster comprised ribosomal proteins (38 genes, p = 1.85 × 10(-47) ). Other significantly enriched gene clusters included metabolism (25 genes, p = 0.0098), oxidative phosphorylation (18 genes, p = 1.10 × 10(-11) ), spliceosome (13 genes, p = 7.02 × 10(-8) ), and protein processing in the endoplasmic reticulum (9 genes, p = 0.0011). Inspection of gene ontogeny (GO) terms identified 24 genes involved in the calcium/β-catenin signals that mediate EtOH's neurotoxicity in this model, including β-catenin itself and both calmodulin isoforms.

Conclusions: Four of the identified pathways with altered transcript abundance mediate the flow of cellular information from RNA to protein. Importantly, ribosome biogenesis also senses nucleolar stress and regulates p53-mediated apoptosis in neural crest. Human ribosomopathies produce craniofacial malformations and 11 known ribosomopathy genes were differentially expressed in this model of neural crest apoptosis. Rapid changes in ribosome expression are consistently observed in EtOH-treated mouse embryo neural folds, a model that is developmentally similar to ours. The recurring identification of ribosome biogenesis suggests it is a candidate modifier of EtOH vulnerability. These results highlight this approach's efficacy to formulate new, mechanistic hypotheses regarding EtOH's developmental damage.

Keywords: Apoptosis; Diamond-Blackfan Anemia; Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders; Gallus gallus; Neural Crest; Oxidative Phosphorylation; Ribosome Biogenesis; Transcriptome Profiling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Cell Death / drug effects
  • Chickens
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Ethanol / toxicity*
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Genetic Association Studies*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics*
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing
  • Neural Crest / cytology
  • Neural Crest / drug effects
  • Neural Crest / metabolism
  • Neural Stem Cells / cytology
  • Neural Stem Cells / drug effects
  • Neural Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Signal Transduction / genetics


  • Ethanol