Fetal alcohol syndrome and autism spectrum disorder: a beneficial link?

In a recent study conducted by Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, researchers found similar molecular vulnerabilities in both fetal alcohol syndrome and autism spectrum disorders. Curious by these similarities, including symptoms of social impairment and altered-levels of genes, the team gave alcohol-exposed pregnant rats low doses of the thyroid hormone thyroxin, to test the possibility of lessening or reversing the effects.[1] In the press release regarding this study, Eva Redei, senior author of the study and professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, explained they previously gave the rats high levels of the hormone, which reversed the learning and memory deficit of the offspring, but wanted to find the lowest dosage possible that would still show the same outcome. High levels of thyroid hormones during pregnancy and early development can be detrimental to the offspring.

The study found the doses of thyroxin were beneficial in only male offspring of the alcohol-exposed pregnant rats. Redei wanted to further investigate, as autism affects males more than females. The team found it important to note that the study does not mean alcohol consumption is a cause of autism.

This study is the first of its kind, and further research needs to be conducted in order to examine the potential for the prophylactic use of thyroxin in humans.

Want to learn more? The full study was published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. 


[1] “Fox News” Link between fetal alcohol syndrome and autism spectrum disorder may point to novel treatment methods. 14 Jun 2013. Web. <http://www.foxnews.com/health/2013/06/14/link-between-fetal-alcohol-syndrome-and-autism-spectrum-disorder-may-point-to/>

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