Ethanol Exposure In Utero Disrupts Radial Migration and Pyramidal Cell Development in the Somatosensory Cortex

Cereb Cortex. 2019 May 1;29(5):2125-2139. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhy094.


Deficits in sensory processing in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) implicate dysfunction in the somatosensory cortex. However, the effects of prenatal ethanol exposure on the development of this region await elucidation. Here, we used an established mouse model of FASD with binge-type ethanol exposure from embryonic day 13.5-16.5 to investigate the effects of prenatal ethanol exposure on pyramidal neurons in the somatosensory cortex. Specifically, we focused on the radial migration of primordial pyramidal neurons during embryonic corticogenesis and their morphology and function during active synaptogenesis in early postnatal development. We found that prenatal ethanol exposure resulted in aberrant radial migration, particularly affecting the populations of postmitotic pyramidal neurons. In addition, there was an enduring effect of prenatal ethanol exposure on glutamate-mediated synaptic transmission in layer V/VI pyramidal neurons. This persisted beyond a transient decrease in pyramidal neuron dendritic complexity that was evident only during early postnatal development. Adolescent mice exposed prenatally to ethanol also displayed decreased tactile sensitivity, as revealed by a modified adhesive tape removal assay. Our findings demonstrate the persistent effects of binge-type in utero ethanol exposure on pyramidal neuron form and function and ultimately sensory processing, the latter being reminiscent of that seen in individuals with FASD.

Keywords: FASD; corticogenesis; gestational binge-ethanol; pyramidal neuron morphology; synaptic transmission.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Movement / drug effects*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Ethanol / administration & dosage*
  • Female
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Membrane Potentials / drug effects
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Pyramidal Cells / drug effects*
  • Pyramidal Cells / pathology
  • Pyramidal Cells / physiology
  • Somatosensory Cortex / drug effects*
  • Somatosensory Cortex / embryology*
  • Somatosensory Cortex / pathology


  • Ethanol