Gestational alcohol exposure can contribute to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), an array of cognitive, behavioral, and physical developmental impairments. Mammalian Target of Rapamycin (mTOR) plays a key role in regulating protein synthesis in response to neuronal activity, thereby modulating synaptic plasticity and long term memory formation in the brain. Based on our previous quantitative mass spectrometry proteomic studies, we hypothesized that gestational chronic binge alcohol exposure alters mTOR signaling and downstream pathways in the fetal hippocampus.
Pregnant Sprague‐Dawley rats were assigned to either a pair‐fed control (PF‐Cont) or a binge alcohol (Alcohol) treatment group. Alcohol dams were acclimatized via a once‐daily orogastric gavage of 4.5 g/kg alcohol (peak BAC, 216 mg/dl) from GD 5–10 and progressed to 6 g/kg alcohol (peak BAC, 289 mg/dl) from GD 11–21. Pair‐fed dams similarly received isocaloric maltose dextrin.
In the Alcohol group, following this exposure paradigm, fetal body weight and crown‐rump length were decreased. The phosphorylation level of mTOR (P‐mTOR) in the fetal hippocampus was decreased in the Alcohol group compared with controls. Alcohol exposure resulted in dysregulation of fetal hippocampal mTORC1 signaling, as evidenced by an increase in total 4E‐BP1 expression. Phosphorylation levels of 4E‐BP1 and p70 S6K were also increased following alcohol exposure. P‐mTOR and P‐4E‐BP1 were exclusively detected in the dentate gyrus and oriens layer of the fetal hippocampus, respectively. DEPTOR and RICTOR expression levels in the fetal hippocampus were increased, however RAPTOR was not altered by chronic binge alcohol exposure.
We conclude that chronic binge alcohol exposure during pregnancy alters mTORC1 signaling pathway in the fetal hippocampus. We conjecture that this dysregulation of mTOR protein expression, its activity, and downstream proteins may play a critical role in FASD neurobiological phenotypes.
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