Effects of Prenatal Alcohol Exposure on Cerebellum Development
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Prenatal exposure to alcohol (ethanol) results in a continuum of physical, neurological, behavioral, and learning defects collectively grouped under the heading fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the most severe combination of these defects under this heading, and is characterized by pre- and postnatal growth deficiencies, facial abnormalities, and defects of the central nervous system (CNS). The developing brain is particularly vulnerable to the toxicity of ethanol, given the broad time frame of susceptibility from neurulation, when the neural tube is formed, all the way through to birth. The cerebellum is an area of the brain particularly vulnerable to prenatal ethanol exposure. Mechanisms proposed for this drastic reduction in brain cells include apoptosis, oxidative stress, and damage to the radial glia stem cell progenitor pool. Physical dexterity, coordination, and visuospatial processing are all affected by these stressors, and eyeblink classical conditioning tests have proven that ethanol-induced damage goes beyond motor coordination by permanently impacting learning and memory.