Synaptic Plasticity Abnormalities in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Basavarajappa BS, Subbanna S. Synaptic Plasticity Abnormalities in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. Cells. 2023; 12(3):442.


The brain’s ability to strengthen or weaken synaptic connections is often termed synaptic plasticity. It has been shown to function in brain remodeling following different types of brain damage (e.g., drugs of abuse, alcohol use disorders, neurodegenerative diseases, and inflammatory conditions). Although synaptic plasticity mechanisms have been extensively studied, how neural plasticity can influence neurobehavioral abnormalities in alcohol use disorders (AUDs) is far from being completely understood.

Alcohol use during pregnancy and its harmful effects on the developing offspring are major public health, social, and economic challenges. The significant attribute of prenatal alcohol exposure on offspring is damage to the central nervous system (CNS), causing a range of synaptic structural, functional, and behavioral impairments, collectively called fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Although the synaptic mechanisms in FASD are limited, emerging evidence suggests that FASD pathogenesis involves altering a set of molecules involved in neurotransmission, myelination, and neuroinflammation.

These studies identify several immediate and long-lasting changes using many molecular approaches that are essential for synaptic plasticity and cognitive function. Therefore, they can offer potential synaptic targets for the many neurobehavioral abnormalities observed in FASD. In this review, we discuss the substantial research progress in different aspects of synaptic and molecular changes that can shed light on the mechanism of synaptic dysfunction in FASD. Increasing our understanding of the synaptic changes in FASD will significantly advance our knowledge and could provide a basis for finding novel therapeutic targets and innovative treatment strategies.

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