Alcohol consumption throughout pregnancy can cause metabolic dysregulation, including glucose intolerance in progeny. This study determined if periconceptional (PC) alcohol (12% v/v in a liquid diet) (PC:EtOH) consumed exclusively around conception results in similar outcomes in Sprague-Dawley rats. Control (C) rats were given a liquid diet containing no alcohol but matched to ensure equal caloric intake. PC maternal alcohol intake (from 4 days before conception until day 4 of gestation), resulted in offspring with elevated fasting plasma glucose (∼10-25%, P < 0.05), impaired glucose tolerance (P < 0.05), and decreased insulin sensitivity (P < 0.01) at 6 months of age. This was associated with increased hepatic gluconeogenesis and sex-specific alterations in peripheral protein kinase B (AKT) signaling. These changes were accompanied by increased mRNA expression of DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs) 1, 3a, and 3b (1.5- to 1.9-fold, P < 0.05) in fetal liver in late gestation, suggesting PC:EtOH may cause epigenetic changes that predispose offspring to metabolic dysfunction. Exposure to a postnatal (PN) high-fat and cholesterol diet (HFD) from 3 months of age caused hyperinsulinemia (∼2-fold increase, P < 0.001) and exacerbated the metabolic dysfunction in male offspring exposed to PC:EtOH but had no additive effects in females. Given many women may drink alcohol while planning a pregnancy, it is crucial to increase public awareness regarding the effects of alcohol consumption around conception on offspring health.
Keywords: developmental programming; diabetes; gene expression; gluconeogenesis; metabolic pathways.