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Abstract

One component of the fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) facial phenotype is a frontonasal anomaly characterized by a thin upper lip and a smooth philtrum. The expression of this anomaly can diminish with age and occurs infrequently in prenatal alcohol-exposed individuals. This study sought to explain these observations. Standardized craniofacial cephalograms of 18 nonhuman primates exposed weekly to ethanol or sucrose solution in utero were measured at ages 1, 6, 12, and 24 months to assess skeletal changes in craniofacial form with age, cognition, and timing of ethanol exposure. The data suggest that there may be a critical period for induction of alcohol-induced craniofacial alterations that occurs very early in gestation and is very short in duration (gestational days 19 or 20). The alterations were scarcely detectable at age 1 month, were most prominent at 6 months, and diminished progressively at 12 and 24 months in the macaque. The appearance and disappearance of the thin upper lip and smooth philtrum may be explained by underlying changes in skeletal structure with age. The infrequent occurrence of the FAS frontonasal anomaly may be explained, in part, by its short critical period of induction. Teratology 59:163–172, 1999. © 1999 Wiley-Liss, Inc.