Acetaldehyde inhibits retinoic acid biosynthesis to mediate alcohol teratogenicity

Yehuda Shabtai, Liat Bendelac, Halim Jubran, Joseph Hirschberg, Abraham Fainsod*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Alcohol consumption during pregnancy induces Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), which has been proposed to arise from competitive inhibition of retinoic acid (RA) biosynthesis. We provide biochemical and developmental evidence identifying acetaldehyde as responsible for this inhibition. In the embryo, RA production by RALDH2 (ALDH1A2), the main retinaldehyde dehydrogenase expressed at that stage, is inhibited by ethanol exposure. Pharmacological inhibition of the embryonic alcohol dehydrogenase activity, prevents the oxidation of ethanol to acetaldehyde that in turn functions as a RALDH2 inhibitor. Acetaldehyde-mediated reduction of RA can be rescued by RALDH2 or retinaldehyde supplementation. Enzymatic kinetic analysis of human RALDH2 shows a preference for acetaldehyde as a substrate over retinaldehyde. RA production by hRALDH2 is efficiently inhibited by acetaldehyde but not by ethanol itself. We conclude that acetaldehyde is the teratogenic derivative of ethanol responsible for the reduction in RA signaling and induction of the developmental malformations characteristic of FASD. This competitive mechanism will affect tissues requiring RA signaling when exposed to ethanol throughout life.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number347
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2018

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