Detecting Neurodevelopmental Effects of Early-Gestation Ethanol Exposure: A Nonhuman Primate Model of Ethanol Drinking During Pregnancy

Vanessa A. Jimenez, Xiaojie Wang, Natali Newman, Nicole A.R. Walter, Steven Gonzales, Jamie O. Lo, Mathew M. Ford, Verginia C. Cuzon Carlson, Kathleen A. Grant, Christopher D. Kroenke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: Gestational ethanol (EtOH) exposure is associated with multiple developmental abnormalities, collectively termed fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). While the majority of women abstain from EtOH following knowledge of pregnancy, one contributing factor to the high FASD prevalence is that pregnancy is not detected until 4 to 6 weeks. Thus, EtOH consumption continues during the initial stages of fetal development. Methods: An experimental protocol is described in which rhesus macaques self-administer 1.5 g/kg/d EtOH (or isocaloric maltose dextrin) prior to pregnancy and through the first 60 days of a 168-day gestation term. Menstrual cycles were monitored, including measurements of circulating estradiol and progesterone levels. The latency to consume 1.5 g/kg EtOH and blood EtOH concentration (BEC) was measured. Results: Twenty-eight fetuses (14 EtOH and 14 controls) were generated in this study. EtOH did not affect menstrual cycles or the probability of successful breeding. No EtOH-induced gross adverse effects on pregnancy were observed. Individual variability in latency to complete drinking translated into variability in BEC, measured 90 minutes following session start. Drinking latencies in controls and EtOH drinkers were longer in the second gestational month than in the first. All pregnancies reached the planned experimental time point of G85, G110, or G135, when in utero MRIs were performed, fetuses were delivered by caesarean section, and brains were evaluated with ex vivo procedures, including slice electrophysiology. Fetal tissues have been deposited to the Monkey Alcohol Tissue Research Resource. Conclusions: This FASD model takes advantage of the similarities between humans and rhesus macaques in gestational length relative to brain development, as well as similarities in EtOH self-administration and metabolism. The daily 1.5 g/kg dose of EtOH through the first trimester does not influence pregnancy success rates. However, pregnancy influences drinking behavior during the second month of pregnancy. Future publications using this model will describe the effect of early-gestation EtOH exposure on anatomical and functional brain development at subsequent gestational ages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)250-261
Number of pages12
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2019


  • EtOH Self-Administration
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
  • In Vivo Fetal Imaging
  • Rhesus Macaque

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Toxicology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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