The Impact of Prenatal Stress, Fetal Alcohol Exposure, or Both on Development: Perspectives from a Primate Model

Document Type


Publication Date



The question of whether psychosocial stress during pregnancy (alone or in combination with fetal alcohol exposure) has negative consequences for offspring has not been clearly established in human studies. In this article, we present an overview of three prospective longitudinal studies. Using rhesus monkeys as subjects, a noise or hormone stressor, alone or in combination with moderate level alcohol solution, was presented daily during different stages of pregnancy. Prenatal stress resulted in lighter birth weights in two of three studies, and males from the alcohol plus noise stress condition had reduced birth weights. There were no significant effects of any of the prenatal treatments on gestation duration. Both prenatal stress and moderate fetal alcohol exposure reduced attention span and neuromotor capabilities of offspring during the first month of life, while early gestation prenatal stress, during the period of neuronal migration, emerged as a period of enhanced vulnerability for these effects. Under conditions of challenge, prenatally stressed monkeys showed more disturbance behaviors and reduced locomotion and exploration as well as altered hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis reactivity to stress. Fetal alcohol exposed monkeys also showed increased HPA axis activity in response to stressful conditions. Finally, altered patterns of alcohol consumption during adolescence were associated with prenatal stress.


Physics and Astronomy

Publication Title