Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders: Zebrafish in the analysis of the milder and more prevalent form of the disease

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Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) represent a large unmet medical need. Exposure of the developing human embryo to alcohol can lead to life-long suffering. Despite the well documented deleterious effects of alcohol on the developing fetus, pregnant women continue to drink alcohol, and FASD remains the leading cause of preventable mental retardation and other behavioral abnormalities. Particularly prevalent are the milder forms of the disease cluster, representing children who do not show obvious physical signs and who may be undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. To develop treatment and diagnostic tools, researchers have turned to animal models. The zebrafish is becoming one of the leading biomedical research organisms that may facilitate discovery of the biological mechanisms underlying this disease and the identification of biomarkers that may be used for diagnosis. Here we review the latest advances of this field, mostly focussing on the discoveries made in our own laboratory and others with zebrafish employed to analyze the effects of moderate to low level of exposure to alcohol. We argue that the zebrafish represents unique advantages, and adding information obtained with this species to the mix of other animal models will significantly increase translational relevance of animal biomedical research for the analysis of human FASD.

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