Consumption of alcohol during pregnancy can result in central nervous system deficits in infants ranging from fetal alcohol effects to fetal alcohol syndrome. Changes in cerebral metabolism causing ischemic in utero conditions can also result from ethanol (EtOH). Growth factors have been shown to ameliorate ischemic damage and EtOH-induced neurotoxicity. However, using an in vitro model system of fetal alcohol effects/fetal alcohol syndrome, this study examines the neuroprotective effects of nerve growth factor, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or glial cell line derived neurotrophic factor against EtOH treatment (0, 200, 400, 800, or 1,600 mg/dl) combined with acute ischemia (2-hour hypoxia in EtOH-containing glucose-free media) followed by chronic hypoglycemia (16-hour glucose deprivation in EtOH-containing media). 3-(4,5-Dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyl tetrazolium bromide assays assessed relative neurotoxicity. Glial cell derived neurotrophic factor was not neuroprotective. Nerve growth factor protected against ischemia/hypoglycemia combined with 0–1,600 mg/dl EtOH. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor protected against ischemia/hypoglycemia combined with 0–800 mg/dl EtOH. These studies demonstrate marked growth factor neuroprotection against a myriad of conditions encountered by developing EtOH-exposed fetuses.

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