Role of Sonic Hedgehog (Shh) in Alcohol-Induced Craniofacial Abnormalities
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Prenatal exposure to alcohol (ethanol) results in a continuum of physical and neurological developmental abnormalities that vary depending on the timing, duration, and degree of alcohol exposure. Heavy exposure during development may lead to the condition Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), characterized by growth deficits, neurological deficiencies and minor facial abnormalities. Alcohol is a known teratogen, an agent that causes birth defects and acts upon developing embryos through mechanisms that are not yet fully understood. One of the better understood developmental effects of alcohol relates to the minor facial abnormalities associated with FAS, particularly the role that the gene sonic hedgehog (shh) plays in the regulation of craniofacial defects. In comparative animal studies, maternal exposure to alcohol results in the massive decrease of shh and shh transcription factors in affected cell populations. However, the exogenous application of shh to the developing embryo has shown limited success in reversing this expression, thereby restoring a normative pattern of craniofacial development in the affected embryo.