Alcohol has always been present in human life, and currently it is estimated that 50% of women of childbearing age consume alcohol. It has become increasingly clear over the last years that alcohol exposure during fetal development can have detrimental effects on various organ systems, and these effects are exerted by alcohol through multiple means, including effects on free radical formation, cellular apoptosis, as well as gene expression. Fetal alcohol exposure can lead to a spectrum of short term as well as long-term problems, with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome being on the more severe end of that spectrum. This syndrome is morbid, yet preventable, and is characterized by midfacial hypoplasia, thin upper lip, widely spaced small eyes, long smooth philtrum and inner epicanthal folds. Other findings include growth restriction as well as various neurodevelopmental abnormalities. This article is the first comprehensive review combining the molecular as well as the gross physiological and anatomical effects of alcohol exposure during pregnancy on various organ systems in the body. Our knowledge of these various mechanisms is crucial for our understanding of how alcohol exposure during fetal development can lead to its detrimental effects.
Keywords: Alcohol and brain; Alcohol and heart; Apoptosis; Cardiac defect; Development; Fetal alcohol exposure; Pregnancy; Reactive oxygen species.