Supplement may prevent alcohol-related brain, skull defects

May 27, 2010
The dietary supplement CDP-choline, sold as a brain-boosting agent and under study for stroke and traumatic brain injury, may block skull and brain damage that can result from alcohol consumption early in pregnancy, Medical College of Georgia researchers Drs. Erhard Bieberich and Guanghu Wang report. Credit: Phil Jones, Medical College of Georgia campus photographer

The dietary supplement CDP-choline, sold as a brain-boosting agent and under study for stroke and traumatic brain injury, may block skull and brain damage that can result from alcohol consumption early in pregnancy, Medical College of Georgia researchers report.

Alcohol consumption in early pregnancy increases levels of a little-known lipid called ceramide, significantly increasing suicide among cells critical to skull and brain formation, Dr. Erhard Bieberich, biochemist in the MCG Schools of Graduate Studies and Medicine, reports in and Disease.

Resulting neural crest damage includes the brain's "skin" - the multi-layered meninges that provides protection and nourishment - producing less TGF-β1, a growth factor critical for brain and bone development. That finding may help explain the cranial bone and cognitive defects that can result in fetal alcohol syndrome.

"There is just a little window," Bieberich said, about four weeks after conception when neural crest cells emerge for a few days before morphing into other cell types that help form numerous organs. This is often before a woman knows she is pregnant. The studies indicate the potential for lasting damage to the fetus if a woman drinks, for example, several glasses of wine within an hour during that window.

MCG researchers suspected ceramide, known to induce cell death and be activated by alcohol, as a culprit in the damage. They found high levels of ceramide both in mouse cells and pregnant mice exposed to alcohol along with a five-fold increase in apoptotic, or dying cells. "There is a clear correlation," he said.

Researchers thought neural crest cells were tough cells whose function could be replaced if they happened to get injured. Instead they found that 25 percent of mouse embryos exposed to alcohol during that critical period had defects in the fibrous joints that connect the skull. "You get a snowball effect: The is damaged, the meninges doesn't develop properly and tissue like bone and brain that are regulated by the meninges don't develop properly either," Bieberich said.

When they added ceramide-neutralizing CDP-choline to the mouse cells, cell death and ceramide levels were reduced. Alcohol prompts the body to produce more ceramide from the brain sphingomyelin, a major component of cell membranes. They found that CDP-choline pushes back toward producing less ceramide, preventing damage providing the drinking stops.

"Ceramide can be bad or good," notes Bieberich, who has shown, for example, ceramide's role in helping early stem cells evolve into embryonic tissue. But alcohol upsets the natural balance.

Follow up studies, funded by the March of Dimes, include determining whether CDP-choline can rescue cells after the fact or whether it or a similar supplement would need to be taken preventively. "Hopefully we can rescue some of the cells by triggering or signaling the back reaction," Bieberich said.
He also wants to see if CDP-choline affords the same protection in pregnant mice that it does in laboratory cells.

Explore further: Infant cooing, babbling linked to hearing ability

Provided by Medical College of Georgia

5 /5 (1 vote)

Related Stories

From the glass to the brain in 6 minutes

Jun 15, 2009

Just one drink can quickly go to your head. Researchers in Heidelberg tested this well-known adage. Only six minutes after consuming an amount of alcohol equivalent to three glasses of beer or two glasses of wine, leading ...

Recommended for you

Infant cooing, babbling linked to hearing ability

7 hours ago

Infants' vocalizations throughout the first year follow a set of predictable steps from crying and cooing to forming syllables and first words. However, previous research had not addressed how the amount ...

Developing 'tissue chip' to screen neurological toxins

8 hours ago

A multidisciplinary team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Morgridge Institute for Research is creating a faster, more affordable way to screen for neural toxins, helping flag chemicals that ...

Gene mutation discovered in blood disorder

12 hours ago

An international team of scientists has identified a gene mutation that causes aplastic anemia, a serious blood disorder in which the bone marrow fails to produce normal amounts of blood cells. Studying a family in which ...

Airway muscle-on-a-chip mimics asthma

15 hours ago

The majority of drugs used to treat asthma today are the same ones that were used 50 years ago. New drugs are urgently needed to treat this chronic respiratory disease, which causes nearly 25 million people ...

User comments : 0