We conducted a systematic review with meta-analytic elements using publicly available Gene Expression Omnibus (GEO) datasets to determine the role of epigenetic mechanisms in prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE)-induced hypothalamic–pituitary– adrenal (HPA) axis dysfunctions in offspring. Several studies have demonstrated that PAE has long-term consequences on HPA axis functions in offspring. Some studies determined that alcohol-induced epigenetic alterations during fetal development persist in adulthood. However, additional research is needed to understand the major epigenetic events leading to alcohol-induced teratogenesis of the HPA axis.
Our network analysis of GEO datasets identified key pathways relevant to alcohol-mediated histone modifications, DNA methylation, and miRNA involvement associated with PAE-induced alterations of the HPA axis. Our analysis indicated that PAE perturbated the epigenetic machinery to activate corticotrophin-releasing hormone, while it suppressed opioid, glucocorticoid receptor, and circadian clock genes. These results help to further our understanding of the epigenetic basis of alcohol’s effects on HPA axis development.