mRNA expression analysis of the hippocampus in a vervet monkey model of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder

Gillis, R.F., Palmour, R.M. mRNA expression analysis of the hippocampus in a vervet monkey model of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. J Neurodevelop Disord 14, 21 (2022).


Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) are common, yet preventable developmental disorders that stem from prenatal exposure to alcohol. This exposure leads to a wide array of behavioural and physical problems with a complex and poorly defined biological basis.

Molecular investigations to date predominantly use rodent animal models, but because of genetic, developmental and social behavioral similarity, primate models are more relevant. We previously reported reduced cortical and hippocampal neuron levels in an Old World monkey (Chlorocebus sabaeus) model with ethanol exposure targeted to the period of rapid synaptogenesis and report here an initial molecular study of this model. The goal of this study was to evaluate mRNA expression of the hippocampus at two different behavioural stages (5 months, 2 years) corresponding to human infancy and early childhood.


Offspring of alcohol-preferring or control dams drank a maximum of 3.5 g ethanol per kg body weight or calorically matched sucrose solution 4 days per week during the last 2 months of gestation. Total mRNA expression was measured with the Affymetrix GeneChip Rhesus Macaque Genome Array in a 2 × 2 study design that interrogated two independent variables, age at sacrifice, and alcohol consumption during gestation.

Results and discussion

Statistical analysis identified a preferential downregulation of expression when interrogating the factor ‘alcohol’ with a balanced effect of upregulation vs. downregulation for the independent variable ‘age’. Functional exploration of both independent variables shows that the alcohol consumption factor generates broad functional annotation clusters that likely implicate a role for epigenetics in the observed differential expression, while the variable age reliably produced functional annotation clusters predominantly related to development. Furthermore, our data reveals a novel connection between EFNB1 and the FASDs; this is highly plausible both due to the role of EFNB1 in neuronal development as well as its central role in craniofrontal nasal syndrome (CFNS). Fold changes for key genes were subsequently confirmed via qRT-PCR.


Prenatal alcohol exposure leads to global downregulation in mRNA expression. The cellular interference model of EFNB1 provides a potential clue regarding how genetically susceptible individuals may develop the phenotypic triad generally associated with classic fetal alcohol syndrome.

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