Caffeine teratogenicity in rats: morphological characterization and hypothesized mechanisms

Ana Claudia Souza, Jairo Alberto Dussán-Sarria, Andressa Souza, Wolnei Caumo, Iraci Lucena da Silva Torres


Caffeine consumption during pregnancy has been shown in the scientific literature to be associated with teratogenicity such as low birth weight, fetal malformations, and miscarriage. However, the morphological alterations of the offspring of dams exposed during pregnancy have not been consistently described, and the mechanisms why they occur remain elusive. Thus, we aimed to characterize the offspring malformations induced by moderate and high doses of caffeine during pregnancy. Dams were divided into three groups: control, moderate (0.3 g/L), and high dose (1.0 g/L) of caffeine, which was provided in the drinking water beginning on gestational day 1 and continuing throughout the entire gestation. At moderate doses, only one of the dams had stillborn pups, although no macroscopic malformations were observed. High doses of caffeine induced significantly more malformations (P<0.001) and early death (before P4). The malformations observed were related to fetal development and cardiovascular alterations, namely bruises, macrocephaly with short limbs, abnormal development (or absence) of head structures and limbs, labial malformations, hydrops fetalis, and poor placental formation. We discussed the proposed mechanisms by which caffeine might induce these phenotypes, which may involve down-regulation of adenosine A1 receptors, and increased mothers’ catecholamines. Our findings further confirm the evidence of the teratogenic effects of high doses of caffeine administered during pregnancy. These findings support the recommendation to avoid caffeine exposure during pregnancy.


Keywords: Caffeine; offspring; teratogenicity; pregnancy; hydrops; cardiovascular alterations


Caffeine; offspring; teratogenicity; pregnancy; hydrops; cardiovascular alterations

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ISSN: 2357-9730



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The Clinical & Biomedical Research is licenced under Creative Commons Atribuição 4.0 Internacional.