Maternal choline supplementation in a sheep model of first trimester binge alcohol fails to protect against brain volume reductions in peripubertal lambs

Alcohol. 2016 Sep:55:1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.alcohol.2016.07.004. Epub 2016 Aug 4.


Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is a leading potentially preventable birth defect. Poor nutrition may contribute to adverse developmental outcomes of prenatal alcohol exposure, and supplementation of essential micronutrients such as choline has shown benefit in rodent models. The sheep model of first-trimester binge alcohol exposure was used in this study to model the dose of maternal choline supplementation used in an ongoing prospective clinical trial involving pregnancies at risk for FASD. Primary outcome measures including volumetrics of the whole brain, cerebellum, and pituitary derived from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in 6-month-old lambs, testing the hypothesis that alcohol-exposed lambs would have brain volume reductions that would be ameliorated by maternal choline supplementation. Pregnant sheep were randomly assigned to one of five groups - heavy binge alcohol (HBA; 2.5 g/kg/treatment ethanol), heavy binge alcohol plus choline supplementation (HBC; 2.5 g/kg/treatment ethanol and 10 mg/kg/day choline), saline control (SC), saline control plus choline supplementation (SCC; 10 mg/kg/day choline), and normal control (NC). Ewes were given intravenous alcohol (HBA, HBC; mean peak BACs of ∼280 mg/dL) or saline (SC, SCC) on three consecutive days per week from gestation day (GD) 4-41; choline was administered on GD 4-148. MRI scans of lamb brains were performed postnatally on day 182. Lambs from both alcohol groups (with or without choline) showed significant reductions in total brain volume; cerebellar and pituitary volumes were not significantly affected. This is the first report of MRI-derived volumetric brain reductions in a sheep model of FASD following binge-like alcohol exposure during the first trimester. These results also indicate that maternal choline supplementation comparable to doses in human studies fails to prevent brain volume reductions typically induced by first-trimester binge alcohol exposure. Future analyses will assess behavioral outcomes along with regional brain and neurohistological measures.

Keywords: Choline; Diagnosis; FASD; Magnetic resonance imaging; Prenatal alcohol; Volumetrics.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Binge Drinking / drug therapy
  • Binge Drinking / pathology*
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Choline / administration & dosage*
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Neuroprotective Agents / administration & dosage
  • Organ Size / drug effects
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, First* / drug effects
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / pathology*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / prevention & control
  • Random Allocation
  • Sheep


  • Neuroprotective Agents
  • Choline