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A study of the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on white matter microstructural integrity at birth

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 May 2015

Kirsten Ann Donald
Affiliation:
Division of Developmental Paediatrics, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
Annerine Roos
Affiliation:
MRC Unit on Anxiety & Stress Disorders, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa
Jean-Paul Fouche
Affiliation:
Department of Human Biology, University of Cape Town and Department of Psychiatry, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
Nastassja Koen
Affiliation:
Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
Fleur M. Howells
Affiliation:
Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
Roger P. Woods
Affiliation:
Department of Neurology, University of California, LA, USA
Heather J. Zar
Affiliation:
Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
Katherine L. Narr
Affiliation:
Department of Neurology, University of California, LA, USA
Dan J. Stein
Affiliation:
MRC Unit on Anxiety & Stress Disorders, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
Corresponding
E-mail address:

Abstract

Background

Neuroimaging studies have indicated that prenatal alcohol exposure is associated with alterations in the structure of specific brain regions in children. However, the temporal and regional specificity of such changes and their behavioural consequences are less known. Here we explore the integrity of regional white matter microstructure in infants with in utero exposure to alcohol, shortly after birth.

Methods

Twenty-eight alcohol-exposed and 28 healthy unexposed infants were imaged using diffusion tensor imaging sequences to evaluate white matter integrity using validated tract-based spatial statistics analysis methods. Second, diffusion values were extracted for group comparisons by regions of interest. Differences in fractional anisotropy (FA), mean diffusivity (MD), axial diffusivity (AD) and radial diffusivity were compared between groups and associations with measures from the Dubowitz neonatal neurobehavioural assessment were examined.

Results

Lower AD values (p<0.05) were observed in alcohol-exposed infants in the right superior longitudinal fasciculus compared with non-exposed infants. Altered FA and MD values in alcohol-exposed neonates in the right inferior cerebellar were associated with abnormal neonatal neurobehaviour.

Conclusion

These exploratory data suggest that prenatal alcohol exposure is associated with reduced white matter microstructural integrity even early in the neonatal period. The association with clinical measures reinforces the likely clinical significance of this finding. The location of the findings is remarkably consistent with previously reported studies of white matter structural deficits in older children with a diagnosis of foetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

Type
Original Articles
Copyright
© Scandinavian College of Neuropsychopharmacology 2015 

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