Fetal alcohol exposure results in well-characterised neurobehavioural deficits in offspring, which form the basis for diagnosing fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. However, there is increasing interest in the full range of health complications that can arise in children and adults with this disorder. We used a systematic review approach to locate all clinical and preclinical studies across a broad range of health outcomes in offspring exposed to prenatal alcohol. Our search encompassed four databases (PubMed, CINAHL, EMBASE and Web of Science) and titles/abstracts from retrieved studies were screened against strict inclusion/exclusion criteria. This review specifically evaluated studies reporting on reproductive outcomes in both males and females. A total of 23 studies were included, 5 clinical and 18 preclinical. Although there was a wide range in the quality of reporting across both clinical and preclinical studies, and variable results, trends emerged amongst the reproductive measures that were investigated. In females, most studies focussed on age at first menarche/puberty onset, with evidence for a significant delay in alcohol-exposed offspring. In males, offspring exposed to prenatal alcohol had altered testosterone levels, reduced testes and accessory gland weights and reduced sperm concentration and semen volume. However, further studies are required due to the paucity of clinical studies, the narrow scope of female reproductive outcomes examined and inconsistencies in outcomes across preclinical studies. We recommend that adolescents and individuals of reproductive age diagnosed with f-etal alcohol spectrum disorder be assessed for reproductive dysfunction to allow appropriate management of their reproductive health and fertility.
L K Akison, K M Moritz and N Reid
Elizabeth K McReight, Seng H Liew, Sarah E Steane, Karla J Hutt, Karen M Moritz and Lisa K Akison
Prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) has been associated with reproductive dysfunction in offspring. However, studies in females, particularly examining long-term infertility or impacts on ovarian reserve, are lacking. The current study utilised a moderate, episodic exposure model in rats to mimic ‘special occasion’ drinking, which is reported to be common during pregnancy. Our objective was to examine the consequences of this prenatal alcohol exposure on reproductive parameters in female offspring. Pregnant Sprague–Dawley rats were treated with either an ethanol gavage (1 g EtOH/kg body weight), or an equivalent volume of saline, on embryonic days 13.5 and 14.5 of pregnancy, resulting in a peak blood alcohol concentration of ~0.04%. Neonatal female offspring were examined for molecular markers regulating early follicle numbers in the ovary, and unbiased stereology was used to quantify primordial and early growing follicle numbers. Puberty onset (age at vaginal opening and first estrous) was measured post-weaning, and estrous cycles, reproductive hormones (progesterone and estradiol) and pregnancy success was measured in adults (5–6 months of age). We found no evidence that any of these reproductive parameters were significantly altered by PAE in this model. This animal study provides some reassurance for women who may have consumed a small amount of alcohol during their pregnancy. However, previously published effects on offspring metabolism using this model reinforce avoidance of alcohol during pregnancy.