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Fetal Alcohol Programming of Hypothalamic Proopiomelanocortin System by Epigenetic Mechanisms and Later Life Vulnerability to Stress

Hypothalamic proopiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons, one of the major regulators of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, immune functions, and energy homeostasis, are vulnerable to the adverse effects of fetal alcohol exposure (FAE). These effects are manifested in POMC neurons by a decrease in Pomc gene expression, a decrement in the levels of its derived peptide β-endorphin and a dysregulation of the stress response in the adult offspring. The HPA axis is a major neuroendocrine system with pivotal physiological functions and mode of regulation. This system has been shown to be perturbed by prenatal alcohol exposure. It has been demonstrated that the perturbation of the HPA axis by FAE is long-lasting and is linked to molecular, neurophysiological, and behavioral changes in exposed individuals. Recently, we showed that the dysregulation of the POMC system function by FAE is induced by epigenetic mechanisms such as hypermethylation of Pomc gene promoter and an alteration in histone marks in POMC ...

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