Up-regulation of microRNA-34a mediates ethanol-induced impairment of neural crest cell migration in vitro and in zebrafish embryos through modulating epithelial-mesenchymal transition by targeting Snail1

Toxicol Lett. 2022 Apr 1:358:17-26. doi: 10.1016/j.toxlet.2022.01.004. Epub 2022 Jan 14.


Prenatal ethanol exposure can impair neural crest cell (NCC) development, including NCC survival, differentiation and migration, contributing to the craniofacial dysmorphology in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) plays an important role in regulating the migration of NCCs. The objective of this study is to determine whether ethanol exposure can suppress NCC migration through inhibiting EMT and whether microRNA-34a (miR-34a) is involved in the ethanol-induced impairment of EMT in NCCs. We found that exposure to 100 mM ethanol significantly inhibited the migration of NCCs. qRT-PCR and Western Blot analysis revealed that exposure to ethanol robustly reduced the mRNA and protein expression of Snail1, a critical transcriptional factor that has a pivotal role in the regulation of EMT. Ethanol exposure also significantly increased the mRNA expression of the Snail1 target gene E-cadherin1 and inhibited EMT in NCCs. We also found that exposure to ethanol significantly elevated the expression of miR-34a that targets Snail1 in NCCs. In addition, down-regulation of miR-34a prevented ethanol-induced repression of Snail1 and diminished ethanol-induced upregulation of Snail1 target gene E-cadherin1 in NCCs. Inhibition of miR-34a restored EMT and prevented ethanol-induced inhibition of NCC migration in vitro and in zebrafish embryos in vivo. These results demonstrate that ethanol-induced upregulation of miR-34a contributes to the impairment of NCC migration through suppressing EMT by targeting Snail1.

Keywords: EMT; Ethanol; Migration; Neural crest cells; Snail1; miR-34a.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Movement
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition* / genetics
  • Ethanol / toxicity
  • MicroRNAs* / metabolism
  • Neural Crest / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Up-Regulation
  • Zebrafish / genetics


  • MicroRNAs
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Ethanol