Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is a leading cause of neurodevelopmental disability. Individuals with FASD may exhibit a characteristic facial appearance that has diagnostic utility. The mechanism by which alcohol disrupts craniofacial development is incompletely understood, as are the genetic factors that can modify individual alcohol vulnerability. Using an established avian model, we characterized the cranial transcriptome in response to alcohol to inform the mechanism underlying these cells' vulnerability. Gallus gallus embryos having 3-6 somites were exposed to 52 mM alcohol and the cranial transcriptomes were sequenced thereafter. A total of 3422 genes had significantly differential expression. The KEGG pathways with the greatest enrichment of differentially expressed gene clusters were Ribosome (P = 1.2 ×10-17 , 67 genes), Oxidative Phosphorylation (P = 4.8 × 10-12 , 60 genes), RNA Polymerase (P = 2.2× 10-3 , 15 genes) and Spliceosome (P = 2.6 × 10-2 , 39 genes). The preponderance of transcripts in these pathways were repressed in response to alcohol. These same gene clusters also had the greatest altered representation in our previous comparison of neural crest populations having differential vulnerability to alcohol-induced apoptosis. Comparison of differentially expressed genes in alcohol-exposed (3422) and untreated, alcohol-vulnerable (1201) transcriptomes identified 525 overlapping genes of which 257 have the same direction of transcriptional change. These included 36 ribosomal, 25 oxidative phosphorylation and 7 spliceosome genes. Using a functional approach in zebrafish, partial knockdown of ribosomal proteins zrpl11, zrpl5a, and zrps3a individually heightened vulnerability to alcohol-induced craniofacial deficits and increased apoptosis. In humans, haploinsufficiency of several of the identified ribosomal proteins are causative in craniofacial dysmorphologies such as Treacher Collins Syndrome and Diamond-Blackfan Anemia. This work suggests ribosome biogenesis may be a novel target mediating alcohol's damage to developing neural crest. Our findings are consistent with observations that gene-environment interactions contribute to vulnerability in FASD.
Berres, M. E., Garic, A., Flentke, G. R., & Smith, S. M. (2017). Transcriptome profiling identifies ribosome biogenesis as a target of alcohol teratogenicity and vulnerability during early embryogenesis. PLoS ONE, 12(1). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0169351