Molecular Neurobiology

, Volume 44, Issue 2, pp 185–191 | Cite as

What Choline Metabolism Can Tell Us About the Underlying Mechanisms of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

  • Steven H. Zeisel


The consequences of fetal exposure to alcohol are very diverse and the likely molecular mechanisms involved must be able to explain how so many developmental processes could go awry. If pregnant rat dams are fed alcohol, their pups develop abnormalities characteristic of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), but if these rat dams were also treated with choline, the effects from ethanol were attenuated in their pups. Choline is an essential nutrient in humans, and is an important methyl group donor. Alcohol exposure disturbs the metabolism of choline and other methyl donors. Availability of choline during gestation directly influences epigenetic marks on DNA and histones, and alters gene expression needed for normal neural and endothelial progenitor cell proliferation. Maternal diets low in choline alter development of the mouse hippocampus, and decrement memory for life. Women eating low-choline diets have an increased risk of having an infant with a neural tube or orofacial cleft birth defect. Thus, the varied effects of choline could affect the expression of FASD, and studies on choline might shed some light on the underlying molecular mechanisms responsible for FASD.


Choline Epigenetics Methyl donor Alcohol Single nucleotide polymorphism Nutrition 



This work was supported by grants from the NIH (DK55865, DK56350).


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Nutrition, UNC Nutrition Research Institute at KannapolisUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillKannapolisUSA

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