Genetic and Epigenetic Perspectives on the Role of Fathers in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

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Research evidence is clear that maternal prenatal alcohol exposure may lead to the child developing Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). However, less research and discussion has focused on the potential contribution of paternal alcohol exposure on FASD.

Our latest issue paper examines the current research on the potential genetic and epigenetic mechanisms that contribute to the fathers’ role in FASD.

The available research indicates that fathers’ alcohol consumption may result in:

  • Changes to the male sperm
  • Changes to the genetic contribution
  • Epigenetic changes
  1. Impacts on Sperm
  • Alcohol consumption can have effects on a male’s reproductive system, resulting in:
    • Reduced sperm development
    • Lower number of sperm
    • Irregular shape of sperm
    • Decreased ability of the sperm to penetrate a female egg
  • These may in turn lead to negative birth outcomes
  1. Genetic contribution
  • 5 different genes have been identified as having a role in fetal susceptibility to FASD
  • Paternal genes also influence production of thyroid hormones that make the fetus vulnerable to maternal alcohol exposure
  • Certain genes influence the production of enzymes that breakdown alcohol, therefore controlling the effects of alcohol on the fetus
  1. Epigenetic Changes
  • The activity of genes can be changed by mechanisms known as epigenetics
  • These changes can be induced by paternal alcohol consumption, and then passed on to the child, potentially leading to symptoms similar to FASD

Evidence shows that fathers’ alcohol consumption prior to conception can impact the vulnerability of the fetus, potentially leading to negative birth outcomes. Changes in sperm and genetics can both lead to a fetus developing features that resemble FASD. It is suggested that both parents avoid alcohol when planning or trying to become pregnant.

Take-home message
Even if the mother does not consume alcohol prenatally, the evidence shows that fathers play a role in making the fetus more vulnerable to prenatal alcohol exposure and contributing to FASD. Male preconception interventions should mirror those of the female; avoiding alcohol prior to conception is the safest way to prevent the possibility of FASD.

Click here to read the full issue paper devoted to this topic.

Visit the CanFASD website for more information and resources.



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