MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Toni Pak, Ph.D.
Professor and Department Chair
Department of Cell and Molecular Physiology
Loyola University Chicago
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?
Response: We have known for many years that drinking alcohol during pregnancy can lead to developmental delays and birth defects in offspring. However, our data demonstrate that drinking large quantities of alcohol in a “binge” fashion before pregnancy can also impact future offspring and importantly, this is true for drinking behaviors of both parents, not just the mother.
Our previous data support the idea that alcohol is affecting the parental sperm and eggs to induce these modifications in the offspring, but this most recent work shows the extent of those effects on social behavior, pubertal maturation, and stress hormones as the offspring grow to adulthood.
This means that the risky behaviors of young people, such as the extremely popular practice of binge drinking, have potentially far-reaching consequences for generations to come.
MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?
Response: Our data also address an important debate in the growing field of “epigenetics”, which refers to environmental or experiential factors in one generation that can impart rapid trait changes in future generations in a manner that does not actually affect the genetic code.
The debate is whether the experiences of one generation can confer some adaptation for the next that would be beneficial. For example, if one generation was exposed to chronic food shortage that could alter the metabolism in the next generation such that they would better tolerate a decreased food supply. However, our data demonstrated that there were no adaptive traits conferred to the offspring that allowed them to better tolerate alcohol when the offspring were themselves exposed. This suggests that certain environmental toxicants, such as drugs of abuse, do not follow this beneficial adaptation argument for epigenetic processes.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: We have shown evidence that alcohol exposure of parents during pubertal development, preconception, can influence future offspring social behavior, pubertal maturation of hormone profiles, and body weight. In addition, there do not seem to be any advantages in these offspring, such as decreased stress activation by alcohol exposure themselves. Teenage binge drinking, therefore, has the ability to cause multigenerational changes in offspring development, with or without future generations exposing themselves to alcohol.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?
Response: Recent advances in genomics research have revealed that preconception behaviors and experiences of mothers and fathers, including diet, environmental toxicants, and drug abuse, can impact future offspring through epigenetic mechanisms. The results of our study suggest that parental binge alcohol exposure, before conception, alters phenotypic traits in first generation offspring. Future research should focus on which parental experiences can be transmitted to offspring, and of those, which represent the biggest concern for the health of those offspring.
AnnaDorothea Asimes, Chun K Kim, Amelia Cuarenta, Anthony P Auger, Toni R Pak. Binge drinking and intergenerational implications: parental preconception alcohol impacts offspring development in rats. Journal of the Endocrine Society, 2018; DOI: 10.1210/js.2018-00051