Chromatin switches during neural cell differentiation and their dysregulation by prenatal alcohol exposure

David P. Gavin, Dennis R. Grayson, Sajoy P. Varghese, Marina Guizzetti

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Prenatal alcohol exposure causes persistent neuropsychiatric deficits included under the term fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). Cellular identity emerges from a cascade of intrinsic and extrinsic (involving cell-cell interactions and signaling) processes that are partially initiated and maintained through changes in chromatin structure. Prenatal alcohol exposure influences neuronal and astrocyte development, permanently altering brain connectivity. Prenatal alcohol exposure also alters chromatin structure through histone and DNA modifications. However, the data linking alcohol-induced differentiation changes with developmental alterations in chromatin structure remain to be elucidated. In the first part of this review, we discuss the sequence of chromatin structural changes involved in neural cell differentiation during normal development. We then discuss the effects of prenatal alcohol on developmental histone modifications and DNA methylation in the context of neurogenesis and astrogliogenesis. We attempt to synthesize the developmental literature with the FASD literature, proposing that alcohol-induced changes to chromatin structure account for altered neurogenesis and astrogliogenesis as well as altered neuron and astrocyte differentiation. Together these changes may contribute to the cognitive and behavioral abnormalities in FASD. Future studies using standardized alcohol exposure paradigms at specific developmental stages will advance the understanding of how chromatin structural changes impact neural cell fate and maturation in FASD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number137
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 11 2017


  • Astrocytes
  • Chromatin
  • DNA methylation
  • Fetal alcohol
  • Histone modifications
  • Neural cell differentiation
  • Neurons

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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