Thiamin deficiency on fetal brain development with and without prenatal alcohol exposure

Biochem Cell Biol. 2018 Apr;96(2):169-177. doi: 10.1139/bcb-2017-0082. Epub 2017 Sep 15.


Adequate thiamin levels are crucial for optimal health through maintenance of homeostasis and viability of metabolic enzymes, which require thiamine as a co-factor. Thiamin deficiency occurs during pregnancy when the dietary intake is inadequate or excessive alcohol is consumed. Thiamin deficiency leads to brain dysfunction because thiamin is involved in the synthesis of myelin and neurotransmitters (e.g., acetylcholine, γ-aminobutyric acid, glutamate), and its deficiency increases oxidative stress by decreasing the production of reducing agents. Thiamin deficiency also leads to neural membrane dysfunction, because thiamin is a structural component of mitochondrial and synaptosomal membranes. Similarly, in-utero exposure to alcohol leads to fetal brain dysfunction, resulting in negative effects such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Thiamin deficiency and prenatal exposure to alcohol could act synergistically to produce negative effects on fetal development; however, this area of research is currently under-studied. This minireview summarizes the evidence for the potential role of thiamin deficiency in fetal brain development, with or without prenatal exposure to alcohol. Such evidence may influence the development of new nutritional strategies for preventing or mitigating the symptoms of FASD.

Keywords: alcohol; alcool; brain; cerveau; fetal alcohol spectrum disorder; fetus; fœtus; thiamin; thiamine; troubles du spectre de l’alcoolisation fœtale.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Brain / embryology*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Embryo, Mammalian / embryology*
  • Embryo, Mammalian / pathology
  • Female
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / metabolism*
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / pathology
  • Humans
  • Neurogenesis*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / metabolism*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / pathology
  • Thiamine / metabolism
  • Thiamine Deficiency / embryology*
  • Thiamine Deficiency / pathology


  • Thiamine