Retinoic acid signaling reduction recapitulates the effects of alcohol on embryo size

Natalie Shukrun, Yehuda Shabtai, Graciela Pillemer, Abraham Fainsod*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) is commonly observed in human pregnancies and can result in severe clinical outcomes. IUGR is observed in Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) fetuses as a result of alcohol (ethanol) exposure during pregnancy. To further understand FAS, the severe form of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, we performed an extensive quantitative analysis of the effects of ethanol on embryo size utilizing our Xenopus model. Ethanol-treated embryos exhibited size reduction along the anterior–posterior axis. This effect was evident primarily from the hindbrain caudally, while rostral regions appeared refractive to ethanol-induced size changes, also known as asymmetric IUGR. Interestingly, some embryo batches in addition to shortening from the hindbrain caudally also exhibited an alcohol-dependent reduction of the anterior head domain, known as symmetric IUGR. To study the connection between ethanol exposure and reduced retinoic acid levels we treated embryos with the retinaldehyde dehydrogenase inhibitors, DEAB and citral. Inhibition of retinoic acid biosynthesis recapitulated the growth defects induced by ethanol affecting mainly axial elongation from the hindbrain caudally. To study the competition between ethanol clearance and retinoic acid biosynthesis we demonstrated that, co-exposure to alcohol reduces the teratogenic effects of treatment with retinol (vitamin A), the retinoic acid precursor. These results further support the role of retinoic acid in the regulation of axial elongation.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere23284
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

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© 2019 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


  • axial elongation
  • fetal alcohol spectrum disorder
  • fetal growth restriction
  • retinoic acid signaling


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