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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Alcohol exposure during late ovine gestation alters fetal liver iron homeostasis without apparent dysmorphology

High levels of alcohol (ethanol) exposure during fetal life can affect liver development and can increase susceptibility to infection after birth.

Our aim was to determine the effects of a moderate level of ethanol exposure in late gestation on the morphology, iron status, and inflammatory status of the ovine fetal liver.

Pregnant ewes were chronically catheterized at 91 days of gestation (DG; term ∼145 DG) for daily intravenous infusion of ethanol (0.75 g/kg maternal body wt; n = 8) or saline (n = 7) over 1 h from 95 to 133 DG. At necropsy (134 DG), fetal livers were collected for analysis.

Liver weight, general liver morphology, hepatic cell proliferation and apoptosis, perivascular collagen deposition, and interleukin (IL)-1β, IL-6, or IL-8 mRNA levels were not different between groups. However, ethanol exposure led to significant decreases in hepatic content of ferric iron and gene expression of the iron-regulating hormone hepcidin and tumor necrosis factor (TNF) (all P < 0.05).

In the placenta, there was no difference in transferrin receptor, divalent metal transporter 1, and ferritin mRNA levels; however, ferroportin mRNA levels were increased in ethanol-exposed animals (P < 0.05), and ferroportin protein tended to be increased (P = 0.054).

Plasma iron concentration was not different between control and ethanol-exposed groups; control fetuses had significantly higher iron concentrations than their mothers, whereas maternal and fetal iron concentrations were similar in ethanol-exposed animals.

We conclude that daily ethanol exposure during the third-trimester-equivalent in sheep does not alter fetal liver morphology; however, decreased fetal liver ferric iron
content and altered hepcidin and ferroportin gene expression indicate that iron homeostasis is altered.

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