Calcium-mediated repression of β-catenin and its transcriptional signaling mediates neural crest cell death in an avian model of fetal alcohol syndrome

Authors

  • George R. Flentke,

    1. Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1415 Linden Drive, Madison, Wisconsin
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    • George R. Flentke and Ana Garic contributed equally to this work.

  • Ana Garic,

    1. Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1415 Linden Drive, Madison, Wisconsin
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    • George R. Flentke and Ana Garic contributed equally to this work.

  • Ed Amberger,

    1. Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1415 Linden Drive, Madison, Wisconsin
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  • Marcos Hernandez,

    1. Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1415 Linden Drive, Madison, Wisconsin
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  • Susan M. Smith

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1415 Linden Drive, Madison, Wisconsin
    2. Waisman Center for Neurodevelopmental Disabilities, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1415 Linden Drive, Madison, Wisconsin
    • Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1415 Linden Drive, Madison, WI 53706
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  • Supported by National Institute of Hospitals Merit Award R37 AA11085 and R21 AA17287 to S. M. Smith.

Abstract

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a common birth defect in many societies. Affected individuals have neurodevelopmental disabilities and a distinctive craniofacial dysmorphology. These latter deficits originate during early development from the ethanol-mediated apoptotic depletion of cranial facial progenitors, a population known as the neural crest. We showed previously that this apoptosis is caused because acute ethanol exposure activates G-protein-dependent intracellular calcium within cranial neural crest progenitors, and this calcium transient initiates the cell death. The dysregulated signals that reside downstream of ethanol's calcium transient and effect neural crest death are unknown. Here we show that ethanol's repression of the transcriptional effector β-catenin causes the neural crest losses. Clinically relevant ethanol concentrations (22–78 mM) rapidly deplete nuclear β-catenin from neural crest progenitors, with accompanying losses of β-catenin transcriptional activity and downstream genes that govern neural crest induction, expansion, and survival. Using forced expression studies, we show that β-catenin loss of function (via dominant-negative T cell transcription factor [TCF]) recapitulates ethanol's effects on neural crest apoptosis, whereas β-catenin gain-of-function in ethanol's presence preserves neural crest survival. Blockade of ethanol's calcium transient using Bapta-AM normalizes β-catenin activity and prevents the neural crest losses, whereas ionomycin treatment is sufficient to destabilize β-catenin. We propose that ethanol's repression of β-catenin causes the neural crest losses in this model of FAS. β-Catenin is a novel target for ethanol's teratogenicity. β-Catenin/Wnt signals participate in many developmental events and its rapid and persistent dysregulation by ethanol may explain why the latter is such a potent teratogen. Birth Defects Research (Part A) 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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