Could Alcohol During Adolescence Affect The Brains Of Future Generations?
In the last few years, it’s become clear that what we do in our lives prior to conceiving a child can affect the health and mental health of the child years down the road. And this goes for both parents, not just the mother. Now, a new study published in the journal Alcohol finds that when alcohol is consumed during adolescence and before conception, it can affect the brains of the offspring—if you’re a rat, anyway. But the researchers say that given the overlap in the two species’ brains, and what we know from prior human studies, the results likely apply to humans. Which means that a few bingeing episodes in high school or college might actually affect the health of one’s child down the road.
The researchers exposed certain groups of male and female rats to the equivalent of six bingeing episodes during their adolescence. Then, after the rats were “sober,” different groups of mice were paired up in various ways to have offspring. For instance, females who’d been exposed to alcohol mated with males who either had or had not been exposed to alcohol. And male rats who had been exposed to alcohol mated with females who either had or hadn’t been exposed.
The expression of genes in certain brain regions of the offspring were shifted, compared to those of animals whose parents hadn’t been exposed to alcohol. In the hypothalamus, for example, which is the area that governs body functions like sleep, stress, eating and reproduction, there were a number of genetic changes. And overall, there were changes to 159 genes in the offspring of mothers who’d been exposed to alcohol, and 93 in the offspring of fathers who’d been exposed, and 244 genes in the offspring of both parents.