The common drugs thyroxine and metformin show promise as a treatment for fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) after research showed they were able to reverse some of the brain damage from this condition in mice when given soon after birth. The results suggest that FAS may not be as permanent as we once thought - it may be reversed even after neurological damage has been done.

When used separately, both thyroxine and metformin reversed some of the cognitive difficulties found in mice who were exposed to alcohol while still in utero. The drugs did this by normalizing genes associated with brain development that become skewed due to alcohol exposure. Although this reversal has been observed only in animals, scientists hope the results can be repeated in human studies in the future.

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“We've shown you can interfere after the damage from alcohol is done. That's huge," said lead investigator and senior author Eva Redei in a recent statement. "We have identified a potential treatment for alcohol spectrum disorder. Currently, there is none."

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) can occur when a woman consumes alcohol during her pregnancy. According to Healthline, the condition can cause a wide range of symptoms with varying degrees of severity, known as the fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). These include: problems with vision, hearing, attention span, and ability to learn and communicate.  

For the study, published online in Molecular Psychiatry, researchers from Northwestern University gave pregnant mice alcohol in order to induce FAS symptoms in their pups. Once born, the pups were given either thyroxine or metformin for a total of 10 days. Thyroxine is a hormone that is reduced in pregnant women who drink and in infants with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, while metformin is an insulin sensitizing drug that lowers blood sugar levels, which is higher in alcoholics.

The pups were then left to mature a little bit, and their memory was tested against rats that were also exposed to alcohol while in the womb but not given any treatment. Results showed that these drugs helped to improve, and even reverse, some of the memory and learning problems associated with FAS.

Although both these drugs are different and normally used for different reasons, they both normalize the genes that control an important enzyme for brain development. As of now, there is no treatment for FAS, a condition believed to affect 2 to 5 percent of school children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The team hope their research will lead to new treatments for these children. 

See Also:

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Lead To Excessive Weight Gain And Obesity Later In Life

Pregnant Mother’s Blood May Be Used To Reveal Baby’s Fetal Alcohol Syndrome To Doctors