Does prenatal alcohol exposure cause a metabolic syndrome? (Non-)evidence from a mouse model of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder

PLoS One. 2018 Jun 28;13(6):e0199213. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0199213. eCollection 2018.


Although prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) reduces offspring growth, it may increase obesity risk at adolescence. Animal models of PAE display glucose intolerance and increased adiposity, suggesting that PAE causes metabolic reprogramming. We tested this hypothesis in a mouse model of binge PAE, wherein pregnant C57Bl/6J females received 3 g/kg alcohol (ETOH) daily from gestational day 12.5 to 17.5; maltodextrin (MD) and medium chain triglycerides (MCT) served as isocaloric nutritional controls, and sham (H2O) treatment controlled for gavage stress. Our comprehensive assessment quantified body composition, energy expenditure, glucose tolerance, and cardiovascular function in offspring at age 17 weeks. Although ETOH pups were initially lighter than all other groups, they did not have a unique obesogenic phenotype. Instead, a similar obesogenic phenotype emerged in all three caloric groups (MCT, MD, ETOH), such that caloric groups had greater post-weaning weight gain (both sexes), reduced gonadal fat weight (males), and reduced glucose clearance (males) compared against H2O offspring. PAE did not affect body composition, respiratory exchange ratio, metabolic adaption to high-fat or low-fat diet, eating behavior, and blood pressure, and ETOH values did not differ from those obtained from isocaloric controls. Exposure to a higher alcohol dose (4.5 g/kg) or a high-fat (60%) diet did not exacerbate differences in body composition or glucose tolerance. "PAE-specific" effects on postnatal growth, glucose tolerance, adiposity, or hypertension only emerged when PAE offspring were compared just against H2O controls, or against MD controls. We conclude that prior reports of obesity and glucose intolerance in adult PAE offspring reflect the contribution of added gestational calories, and not alcohol's pharmacologic action. Results suggest that the increased adiposity risk in FASD is not caused by metabolic reprogramming, and instead originates from behavioral, medication, and/or dietary practices. This study highlights the importance of appropriate dietary controls in nutritional studies of PAE.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Animals
  • Biomarkers
  • Body Weight
  • Diet, High-Fat / adverse effects
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / etiology*
  • Fetal Development / drug effects
  • Glucose Intolerance
  • Hemodynamics
  • Male
  • Maternal Exposure*
  • Metabolic Syndrome / etiology*
  • Metabolic Syndrome / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*


  • Biomarkers