Even just a little bit of alcohol can alter fetal brain development—at least in mice. Physiologist Hermes Yeh, Ph.D., and Verginia Cuzon, a doctoral student in Yeh's lab, made that discovery when they tried to use mice to study fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Mice, it turns out, are more sensitive to alcohol than humans and even than rats, which are usually used in FAS research. Mice can tolerate only very low blood-alcohol levels—levels three times lower than the legal intoxication limit in the U.S.—and still have a successful pregnancy. But even at these low levels, Yeh and Cuzon noticed that alcohol affected the migration of cells within the developing fetal brain. This could have lasting effects because young brain cells need to move to specific locations in order to specialize, mature, and form various structures of the brain. Below are two short videos of some of those cells migrating. Each video was created frame-by-frame, by taking a picture of the cells every five minutes for several hours. For more on this research, read "A scratch on the surface of a big story."
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