Choline Supplementation and DNA Methylation in the Hippocampus and Prefrontal Cortex of Rats Exposed to Alcohol During Development


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Reprint requests: Sandra J. Kelly, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208; Tel.: 803-777-7610; Fax: 803-777-9558; E-mail:



Some of the most frequent deficits seen in children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) and in animal models of FASD are spatial memory impairments and impaired executive functioning, which are likely related to alcohol-induced alterations of the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex (PFC), respectively. Choline, a nutrient supplement, has been shown in a rat model to ameliorate some of alcohol's teratogenic effects, and this effect may be mediated through choline's effects on DNA methylation.


Alcohol was given by intragastric intubation to rat pups during the neonatal period (postnatal days 2 to 10) (ET group), which is equivalent to the third trimester in humans and a period of heightened vulnerability of the brain to alcohol exposure. Control groups included an intubated control group given the intubation procedure without alcohol (IC) and a nontreated control group (NC). Choline or saline was administered subcutaneously to each subject from postnatal days 2 to 20. On postnatal day 21, the brains of the subjects were removed and assayed for global DNA methylation patterning as measured by chemiluminescence using the cpGlobal assay in both the hippocampal region and PFC.


Alcohol exposure caused hypermethylation in the hippocampus and PFC, which was significantly reduced after choline supplementation. In contrast, control animals showed increases in DNA methylation in both regions after choline supplementation, suggesting that choline supplementation has different effects depending upon the initial state of the brain.


This study is the first to show changes in global DNA methylation of the hippocampal region and PFC after neonatal alcohol exposure. Choline supplementation impacts global DNA methylation in these 2 brain regions in alcohol-exposed and control animals in a differential manner. The current findings suggest that both alcohol and choline have substantial impact on the epigenome in the PFC and hippocampus, and future studies will be needed to describe which gene families are impacted in such a way that function of the nervous system is changed.