Maria Camargo Moreno, Sandra M. Mooney, Frank A. Middleton
Prenatal ethanol exposure can produce structural and functional deficits in the brain and result in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). In rodent models acute exposure to a high concentration of alcohol causes increased apoptosis in the developing brain. A single causal molecular switch that signals for this increase in apoptosis has yet to be identified. The protein p53 has been suggested to play a pivotal role in enabling cells to engage in pro-apoptotic processes, and thus figures prominently as a hub molecule in the intracellular cascade of responses elicited by alcohol exposure. In the present study we examined the effect of ethanol-induced cellular and molecular responses in primary somatosensory cortex (SI) and hippocampus of 7-day-old wild-type (WT) and p53-knockout (KO) mice. We quantified apoptosis by active caspase-3 immunohistochemistry and ApopTag™ labeling, then determined total RNA expression levels in laminae of SI and hippocampal subregions. Immunohistochemical results confirmed increased incidence of apoptotic cells in both regions in WT and KO mice following ethanol exposure. The lack of p53 was not protective in these brain regions. Molecular analyses revealed a heterogeneous response to ethanol exposure that varied depending on the subregion, and which may go undetected using a global approach. Gene network analyses suggest that the presence or absence of p53 alters neuronal function and synaptic modifications following ethanol exposure, in addition to playing a classic role in cell cycle signaling. Thus, p53 may function in a way that underlies the intellectual and behavioral deficits observed in FASD.