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In western countries, alcohol consumption is widespread in women of reproductive age, and in binge quantities. These countries also continue to have high incidences of unplanned pregnancies, with women often reported to cease drinking after discovering their pregnancy. This suggests the early embryo may be highly exposed to the detrimental effects of alcohol during the periconception period. The periconception and pre-implantation windows, which include maturation of the oocyte, fertilisation, and morphogenesis of the pre-implantation embryo, are particularly sensitive times of development. Within the oviduct and uterus, the embryo is exposed to a unique nutritional environment to facilitate its development and establish de-novo expression of the genome through epigenetic reprogramming. Alcohol has wide-ranging effects on cellular stress, as well as hormonal, and nutrient signalling pathways, which may affect the development and metabolism of the early embryo. In this review, we summarise the adverse developmental outcomes of early exposure to alcohol (prior to implantation in animal models) and discuss the potential mechanisms for these outcomes that may occur within the protected oviductal and uterine environment. One interesting candidate is reduced retinoic acid synthesis, as it is implicated in the control of epigenetic reprogramming and cell lineage commitment, processes that have adverse consequences for the formation of the placenta, and subsequently, fetal programming.

Original publication




Journal article


Biochem Cell Biol

Publication Date





107 - 116


acide rétinoïque, embryo, embryon, epigenetics, ethanol, programmation, programming, retinoic acid, épigénétique, éthanol, Alcohol Drinking, Animals, Blastocyst, Embryonic Development, Epigenesis, Genetic, Female, Fertilization, Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental, Humans, Male