Xenopus embryos to study fetal alcohol syndrome, a model for environmental teratogenesis

Abraham Fainsod*, Hadas Kot-Leibovich

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Vertebrate model systems are central to characterize the outcomes of ethanol exposure and the etiology of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), taking advantage of their genetic and morphological closeness and similarity to humans. We discuss the contribution of amphibian embryos to FASD research, focusing on Xenopus embryos. The Xenopus experimental system is characterized by external development and accessibility throughout embryogenesis, large clutch sizes, gene and protein activity manipulation, transgenesis and genome editing, convenient chemical treatment, explants and conjugates, and many other experimental approaches. Taking advantage of these methods, many insights regarding FASD have been obtained. These studies characterized the malformations induced by ethanol including quantitative analysis of craniofacial malformations, induction of fetal growth restriction, delay in gut maturation, and defects in the differentiation of the neural crest. Mechanistic, biochemical, and molecular studies in Xenopus embryos identified early gastrula as the high alcohol sensitivity window, targeting the embryonic organizer and inducing a delay in gastrulation movements. Frog embryos have also served to demonstrate the involvement of reduced retinoic acid production and an increase in reactive oxygen species in FASD. Amphibian embryos have helped pave the way for our mechanistic, molecular, and biochemical understanding of the etiology and pathophysiology of FASD.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)77-87
Number of pages11
JournalBiochemistry and Cell Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Published by NRC Research Press.


  • Embryonic development
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Spemann's organizer
  • Xenopus


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