Issue Paper: Genetic and Epigenetic Perspectives on the Role of Fathers in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

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Vichithra Liyanage-Zachariah, PhD ; Kelly Harding, PhD, Canada FASD Research Network, Laurentian University, Ontario, Canada

KEY MESSAGES: Given that fathers who consume alcohol at risky levels may contribute to FASD due to sperm abnormalities and genetic and epigenetic influences, it is recommended that fathers as well as mothers be involved in pregnancy planning and in reducing/stopping at-risk alcohol consumption in the preconception period. Preconception interventions with male partners should be synchronized with those designed to support women in preventing FASD.

Issue: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a diagnostic term used to describe the impacts on the brain and body of individuals prenatally exposed to alcohol. FASD is a lifelong disability. Individuals with FASD will experience some degree of challenges in their daily living, and need support with motor skills, physical health, learning, memory, attention, communication, emotional regulation, and social skills to reach their full potential. Each individual with FASD is unique and has areas of both strengths and challenges.

The direct exposure of a fetus to alcohol during the prenatal period is an essential requirement for the current Canadian FASD diagnostic guidelines. However, not every mother who drinks during pregnancy will give birth to a child with FASD, suggesting that factors other than maternal alcohol consumption may make the fetus more vulnerable to prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) and therefore may contribute to FASD.

The potential role of fathers in FASD has had less attention. Some researchers have conducted animal studies to investigate the potential role of paternal alcohol consumption in birth outcomes. These studies provide some evidence that fathers’ alcohol consumption may indirectly contribute to FASD, as somewhat similar phenotypes to FASD have been found in offspring where exposure has been solely from fathers’ preconception alcohol use. Recent advances in genetic and epigenetic research have shed new light on the potential paternal contribution to FASD.

Click here to download full Issue Paper by CanFASD.

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