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Health Sciences staff profiles

Dr Ruth Napper

PositionSenior Lecturer
DepartmentDepartment of Anatomy
QualificationsBSc(Hons) PhD(Otago)
Research summaryAlcohol exposure and brain development
TeachingDr Napper teaches into a range of science areas within the Anatomy department, including Health Sciences First Year, second to fourth year anatomy papers, and postgraduate students in her research laboratory.
MembershipsRuth is a member of the Board of Mirror Counselling Dunedin. She has taken on this role to assist in increasing the profile of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder in the lower South Island with the aim of assisting families and the children affected.


When the developing fetus is exposed to alcohol, the complex process of development can be altered resulting in long-term changes. Changes in the brain and thus in behaviour, are the most devastating feature of individuals affected by alcohol exposure during fetal development and recent estimates suggest up to 570 affected births in NZ each year (Ministry of Health. 2015. Taking Action on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD): A discussion document. Wellington).

Dr Napper's research uses an animal model (rat) to study the effects of binge alcohol exposure, the most prevalent drinking pattern of NZ women, to study the effects of exposure to alcohol during fetal development on brain structure and function. She studies primarily the effect of a single alcohol binge on cell death in the brain and the long term consequences of this on brain structure and function. She is currently following a cohort of animals with a view to understanding how exposure to alcohol before birth affected not only day to day life but the quality of life as we age.

Additional details

Ruth has a lot of experience talking to community groups on aspects of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and is very keen to talk to any groups that would like to learn more about the syndrome of the science research contributing to our knowledge.


Smith, C. C., Guévremont, D., Williams, J. M., & Napper, R. M. A. (2015). Apoptotic cell death and temporal expression of apoptotic proteins Bcl-2 and Bax in the hippocampus, following binge ethanol in the neonatal rat model. Alcoholism, 39(1), 36-44. doi: 10.1111/acer.12606

Idrus, N. M., & Napper, R. M. A. (2012). Acute and long-term Purkinje cell loss following a single ethanol binge during the early third trimester equivalent in the rat. Alcoholism, 36(8), 1365-1373. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2012.01743.x

Zheng, Y., Balabhadrapatruni, S., Baek, J. H., Chung, P., Gliddon, C., Zhang, M., Darlington, C. L., Napper, R., … Smith, P. F. (2012). The effects of bilateral vestibular loss on hippocampal volume, neuronal number, and cell proliferation in rats. Frontiers in Neurology, 3, 20. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2012.00020

Clements, K. M., Smith, L. M., Reynolds, J. N. J., Overton, P. G., Thomas, J. D., & Napper, R. M. (2012). Early postnatal ethanol exposure: Glutamatergic excitotoxic cell death during acute withdrawal. Neurophysiology, 44(5), 376-386. doi: 10.1007/s11062-012-9308-7

Hamodeh, S., Eicke, D., Napper, R. M. A., Harvey, R. J., & Sultan, F. (2010). Population based quantification of dendrites: Evidence for the lack of microtubule-associate protein 2a,b in Purkinje cell spiny dendrites. Neuroscience, 170(4), 1004-1014. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2010.08.021