Holoprosencephaly (HPE) is a common birth defect of the forebrain and midface with both environmental and genetic causes. Among the environmental factors is maternal alcohol consumption during early pregnancy. In addition, mutations in the Sonic hedgehog (Shh) signaling pathway have been identified in human HPE. The HPE phenotype of mutation carriers is highly variable, with the spectrum of effects ranging in a continuum from severe defects in the forebrain and midface to no clinical manifestation. The reason for this variability is un- known, but factors that may also be required include additional genetic influences or environmental exposures during fetal development. Gene-environment interactions are likely to be involved in a complex malady like HPE;however, there are few models for this. Cdo and Boc are cell surface proteins that bind Shh and regulate pathway signaling strength in specific regions of the developing embryo. Cdo mutant mice display HPE with strain-specific severity: mutants on the 129/Sv background show very mild HPE with low frequency, while mutants on the C57BL/6 background show more severe forms at high frequency. Boc mutant mice are without overt effect, but 129/Sv Cdo;Boc double-mutants display severe craniofacial HPE features. We report that 129/Sv mice are resistant to ethanol-induced HPE;however, 80% of 129/Sv Cdo mutant embryos exposed in utero to ethanol display strong craniofacial HPE and bear a striking resemblance to Cdo;Boc double mutants. Furthermore, there is a strong reduction of Shh expression in the forebrain of ethanol-treated Cdo mutant embryos. Loss of Cdo and fetal ethanol exposure therefore synergize to produce HPE;this fact, plus that ethanol-treated Cdo mutant embryos are so similar to Cdo;Boc double-mutants, argues that loss of Cdo and ethanol exposure have a synergistic effect on Shh signaling. Limb and digit defects are also associated with human fetal alcohol exposure, and in utero ethanol exposure of C57BL/6 embryos results in malformations of the posterior aspects of limbs and digits. Shh is required for all posterior patterning of limbs and digits. Loss of Boc, but not Cdo, results in severe digit defects on a genetically-sensitized background. It is hypothesized that, similar to 129/Sv Cdo mutant mice and HPE, 129/Sv Boc mutant mice will be sensitized to ethanol-induced limb/digit anomalies. There is relatively little information available on how ethanol disrupts the known regulators of limb/digit patterning, and developmental genetic analyses of ethanol-treated C57BL/6 and 129/Sv mice will shed light on this process.
The aims of this proposal are: 1) to analyze ethanol-induced HPE in 129/Sv Cdo mutant mice;2) to identify mechanisms of ethanol-induced down-regulation of Shh expression in the forebrains of 129/Sv Cdo mutant mice;and 3) to analyze the role of the Shh pathway in ethanol-induced defects in limb/digit patterning. These studies involve analysis of a newly developed model of gene-environment interaction between a defined developmental mutation and ethanol in a common birth defect. Such information may have important public health impact and could ultimately aid in the counseling of mutation carriers.

Public Health Relevance

Maternal alcohol consumption during early pregnancy can result in birth defects, and this may be influenced by genetic variation in the human population. This application focuses on a mouse model in which a combination of in utero alcohol exposure and a specific mutation leads to a devastating and common birth defect of the forebrain and midface, called holoprosencephaly. Studies on this model, and its extension to additional ethanol-associated birth defects, are proposed, with the goal of shedding light on how genetic susceptibility may influence the outcome of fetal alcohol exposure.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZAA1-JJ (06))
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Hereld, Dale
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Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
Schools of Medicine
New York
United States
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