Chronic low alcohol intake during pregnancy programs sex-specific cardiovascular deficits in rats

  • Sarah L. Walton, Melissa Tjongue, Marianne Tare, Edmund Kwok, Megan Probyn, Helena C. Parkington, John F. BertramKaren M. Moritz and Kate M. Denton
Biology of Sex Differences201910:21



Exposure to an adverse environment in early life can have lifelong consequences for risk of cardiovascular disease. Maternal alcohol (ethanol) intake is common and associated with a variety of harmful effects to the fetus. However, examining the effects on the cardiovascular system in adult offspring has largely been neglected. The objectives of this study were to investigate the influence of chronic, low ethanol consumption throughout pregnancy on blood pressure, vascular reactivity and wall stiffness, all key determinants of cardiovascular health, in both male and female rat offspring.


Female Sprague-Dawley rats were fed an ad libitum liquid diet ± 6% vol/vol ethanol throughout pregnancy. Male and female offspring were studied at 12 months of age. Arterial pressure, heart rate and locomotor activity were measured over 7 days via radiotelemetry. Renal lobar arteries were isolated and studied using wire and pressure myography.


Basal mean arterial pressure in female ethanol-exposed rats was reduced by ~ 5–6 mmHg compared to control female offspring, whereas arterial pressure was unaffected in male offspring. Ethanol-exposed offspring had an attenuated pressor response to an acute restraint stress, with this effect most evident in females. Renal artery function was not affected by prenatal ethanol exposure.


We show for the first time that low level chronic maternal alcohol intake during pregnancy influences arterial pressure in adult offspring in the absence of fetal growth restriction.

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