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Front Genet. 2014 Jun 2;5:154. doi: 10.3389/fgene.2014.00154. eCollection 2014.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and their transmission through genetic and epigenetic mechanisms.

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Rutgers Endocrine Program, Department of Animal Sciences, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.


Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) are a group of related conditions that arise from prenatal exposure to maternal consumption of the teratogen, ethanol. It has been estimated that roughly 1% of children in the US suffer from FASD (Sampson etal., 1997), though in some world populations, such as inhabitants of some poorer regions of South Africa, the rate can climb to as high as 20% (May etal., 2013). FASD are the largest cause of mental retardation in U.S. neonates, and ironically, are entirely preventable. FASD have been linked to major changes in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, resulting in lifelong impairments through mental disorders, retardation, and sensitivity to stress. FASD are linked to an impaired immune system which consequently leads to an elevated risk of cancer and other diseases. FASD arise from a complex interplay of genetic and epigenetic factors. Here, we review current literature on the topic to tease apart what is known in these areas particularly emphasizing HPA axis dysfunction and how this ties into new studies of transgenerational inheritance in FASD.


FASD; HPA axis; fetal alcohol; proopiomelanocortin; transgenerational epigenetic

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