Alcohol-induced congenital heart defects (CHDs) are frequently among the most life-threatening and require surgical correction in newborns. The etiology of these defects, collectively known as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), has been the focus of much study, particularly involving cellular and molecular mechanisms. Few studies have addressed the influential role of altered cardiac function in early embryogenesis, due to a lack of tools with the capability to assay tiny beating hearts. To overcome this gap in our understanding, we used optical coherence tomography (OCT), a non-destructive imaging modality capable of micrometer-scale resolution imaging, to rapidly and accurately map cardiovascular structure and hemodynamics in real time under physiological conditions. In this study, we exposed avian embryos to a single dose of alcohol/ethanol at gastrulation when the embryo is sensitive to the induction of birth defects. Late-stage hearts were analyzed using standard histological analysis with a focus on the atrio-ventricular valves. Early cardiac function was assayed using Doppler OCT, and structural analysis of the cardiac cushions was performed using OCT imaging. Our results indicated that ethanol-exposed embryos developed late-stage valvuloseptal defects. At early stages, they exhibited increased regurgitant flow and developed smaller atrio-ventricular cardiac cushions, in comparison to controls (uninjected and saline-injected embryos). The embryos also exhibited abnormal flexion/torsion of the body. Our evidence suggests that ethanol-induced alterations in early cardiac function have the potential to contribute to late-stage valve and septal defects, thus demonstrating that functional parameters may serve as early and sensitive gauges of cardiac normalcy and abnormalities.
- cardiac function
- congenital heart defects
- Copyright © 2013, American Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology