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: US scientists make embryonic stem cells from adult skin

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

Leeches help save woman's ear after pit bull mauling

Apr 18, 2014

(HealthDay)—A pit bull attack in July 2013 left a 19-year-old woman with her left ear ripped from her head, leaving an open wound. After preserving the ear, the surgical team started with a reconnection ...

New pain relief targets discovered

Apr 17, 2014

Scientists have identified new pain relief targets that could be used to provide relief from chemotherapy-induced pain. BBSRC-funded researchers at King's College London made the discovery when researching ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Cancer stem cells linked to drug resistance

Most drugs used to treat lung, breast and pancreatic cancers also promote drug-resistance and ultimately spur tumor growth. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have discovered ...

Finnish inventor rethinks design of the axe

(Phys.org) —Finnish inventor Heikki Kärnä is the man behind the Vipukirves Leveraxe, which is a precision tool for splitting firewood. He designed the tool to make the job easier and more efficient, with ...

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.