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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2019 Apr 22. doi: 10.1111/acer.14066. [Epub ahead of print]

Ethanol Exposure Increases miR-140 in Extracellular Vesicles: Implications for Fetal Neural Stem Cell Proliferation and Maturation.

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Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics, Texas A&M University Health Science Center, Bryan, Texas.



Neural stem cells (NSCs) generate most of the neurons of the adult brain in humans, during the mid-first through second-trimester period. This critical neurogenic window is particularly vulnerable to prenatal alcohol exposure, which can result in diminished brain growth. Previous studies showed that ethanol (EtOH) exposure does not kill NSCs, but, rather, results in their depletion by influencing cell cycle kinetics and promoting aberrant maturation, in part, by altering NSC expression of key neurogenic miRNAs. NSCs reside in a complex microenvironment rich in extracellular vesicles, shown to traffic miRNA cargo between cells.


We profiled the miRNA content of extracellular vesicles from control and EtOH-exposed ex vivo neurosphere cultures of fetal NSCs. We subsequently examined the effects of one EtOH-sensitive miRNA, miR-140-3p, on NSC growth, survival, and maturation.


EtOH exposure significantly elevates levels of a subset of miRNAs in secreted extracellular vesicles. Overexpression of one of these elevated miRNAs, miR-140-3p, and its passenger strand relative, miR-140-5p, significantly increased the proportion of S-phase cells while decreasing the proportion of G0 /G1 cells compared to controls. In contrast, while miR-140-3p knockdown had minimal effects on the proportion of cells in each phase of the cell cycle, knockdown of miR-140-5p significantly decreased the proportion of cells in G2 /M phase. Furthermore, miR-140-3p overexpression, during mitogen-withdrawal-induced NSC differentiation, favors astroglial maturation at the expense of neural and oligodendrocyte differentiation.


Collectively, the dysregulated miRNA content of extracellular vesicles following EtOH exposure may result in aberrant neural progenitor cell growth and maturation, explaining brain growth deficits associated with prenatal alcohol exposure.


Exosomes; Extracellular Vesicles; Fetal Alcohol; Neural Stem Cells; microRNA


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