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Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity
Volume 2011, Article ID 213286, 13 pages
Research Article

Acetaldehyde-Mediated Neurotoxicity: Relevance to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

1Department of Medicine, Rhode Island Hospital and the Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Providence, RI 02903, USA
2Pathobiology Graduate Program, Brown University, Providence, RI 02912, USA
3Departments of Pathology, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, Rhode Island Hospital and the Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Providence, RI 02903, USA

Received 28 December 2010; Accepted 12 January 2011

Academic Editor: Kenneth Maiese

Copyright © 2011 Ming Tong et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Ethanol-induced neuro-developmental abnormalities are associated with impaired insulin and IGF signaling, and increased oxidative stress in CNS neurons. We examined the roles of ethanol and its principal toxic metabolite, acetaldehyde, as mediators of impaired insulin/IGF signaling and oxidative injury in immature cerebellar neurons. Cultures were exposed to 3.5 mM acetaldehyde or 50 mM ethanol ± 4-methylpyrazole (4-MP), an inhibitor of ethanol metabolism, and viability, mitochondrial function, oxidative stress, DNA damage, and insulin responsiveness were measured 48 hours later. Acetaldehyde or ethanol increased neuronal death and levels of 8-OHdG and 4-HNE, and reduced mitochondrial function. Ethanol inhibited insulin responsiveness, whereas acetaldehyde did not. 4-MP abated ethanol-induced oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction, but failed to restore insulin responsiveness. Furthermore, alcohol and aldehyde metabolizing enzyme genes were inhibited by prenatal ethanol exposure; this effect was mediated by acetaldehyde and not ethanol + 4MP. These findings suggest that brain insulin resistance in prenatal alcohol exposure is caused by direct effects of ethanol, whereas oxidative stress induced neuronal injury is likely mediated by ethanol and its toxic metabolites. Moreover, the adverse effects of prenatal ethanol exposure on brain development may be exacerbated by down-regulation of genes needed for metabolism and detoxification of alcohol in the brain.