Paternal Alcohol Use Linked to Fetal Developmental Issues

When a woman goes to a prenatal visit the physician typically focuses almost exclusively on her behaviors, but new research findings suggest that science should be looking more closely at the father’s behavior as well.

Whether maternal background can mitigate sperm-inherited alterations in developmental programming and modify penetrance of growth defects induced by preconception paternal alcohol exposures remains unaddressed to this day.

In a recently published study, researchers showed that the epigenetic factor of prenatal exposure to alcohol in males can manifest in the placenta. The research was published in the FASEB journal. 

The study researchers used a mice model, in which they found that offspring of fathers exposed to alcohol have a number of placenta-related difficulties, including increased fetal growth restriction, enlarged placentas, and decreased placental efficiency. 

“The placenta supplies nutrients to the growing fetus, so fetal growth restriction can be attributed to a less efficient placenta. This is why placental efficiency is such an important metric; it tells us how many grams of fetus are produced per gram of placenta,” said Kara Thomas, VTPP graduate student and lead author on the study. “With paternal alcohol exposure, placentas become overgrown as they try to compensate for their inefficiency in delivering nutrients to the fetus.”

The researchers believe that altough the information is passed from the father, the mother’s genetics and the offspring’s sex also play a role, because the increases happened frequently in male offspring but the same increases were far less frequent in female offspring. 

The results give us an insight of how human male drinking prior to conception impacts the fetal development and that not only maternal factors influence the outcome. So birth defects that we see might not be the mother’s fault. They might be the father’s or both, equally.


Kara N. Thomas, Katherine N. Zimmel, Alexis N. Roach, Alison Basel, Nicole A. Mehta, Yudhishtar S. Bedi, Michael C. Golding. Maternal background alters the penetrance of growth phenotypes and sex‐specific placental adaptation of offspring sired by alcohol‐exposed males. The FASEB Journal, 2021; 35 (12) DOI: 10.1096/fj.202101131R.

Texas A&M University. “Paternal alcohol use increases frequency of fetal development issues.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 February 2022.

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