Anna Bukiya, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), has received a grant totaling $393,750 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a subsidiary of the National Institutes of Health, to study how alcohol consumption during pregnancy alters development of the fetal brain.
The award will be used to support a project titled, “Fetal Cerebrovascular eCB System as a Target of Maternal Alcohol Consumption,” and will be distributed over a two-year period.
Drinking while pregnant may lead to the birth of a child with a range of physical, behavioral and cognitive abnormalities. They are called fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). FASD represents the leading preventable cause of birth defects and developmental disabilities. The mechanisms of FASD are poorly understood. Many studies focus on the devastating consequences of maternal drinking on fetal neuronal cells in the brain. In contrast, this collaborative effort between the UTHSC Departments of Pharmacology, Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Comparative Medicine seeks to determine the effects of alcohol fetal cerebral circulation and function of fetal cerebral arteries. Arterial function is crucial, as arteries supply oxygen and nutrients to the developing brain.
“We hypothesize that maternal alcohol consumption alters cerebral artery function in the fetus,” said Dr. Bukiya. “Moreover, we will determine the mechanism of this alcohol effect. We know that our body produces special lipids — endocannabinoids. We think that alcohol may change the amount of endocannabinoids and may also change the way by which endocannabinoids communicate with membrane proteins called ion channels. These are unknown waters. Our exploratory work may open new horizons in understanding the pathophysiology of FASD. Ultimately we hope to find a cure for this condition.”
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.