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Studies suggest brain injury results from developmental exposure to alcohol, anesthesia, and lead

SEATTLE, WA--Neuroapoptosis--the death of brain cells--may help explain a wide range of developmental disturbances, including fetal alcohol syndrome and schizophrenia, according to researchers who presented a symposium today at the 2004 AAAS (Triple-A-S) Annual Meeting. AAAS is the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

At the AAAS event, Columbia University psychiatrist Ezra Susser and his colleagues discussed new findings suggesting a link between exposure to lead in utero and a diagnosis of schizophrenia in young adults.

"The results of our study suggest that lead-induced prenatal damage to the developing brain may show itself decades following initial exposure to the substance," Susser said.

At the same symposium, Washington University psychiatrist, John W. Olney, released new research relating to the impact of pediatric medicines and alcohol on the developing brain. Previously, Olney and colleagues had reported that either alcohol or anesthetic drugs can cause large numbers of nerve cells to commit suicide in the developing rodent brain. Now they have determined that it requires only brief exposure to small amounts of these substances to trigger apoptosis. For example, exposure of the developing mouse brain to blood alcohol levels equivalent to those produced in a human from two cocktails was sufficient to cause the cells to die.

"Alcohol has been damaging the human fetal brain for centuries", Olney said, "but the link between alcohol and fetal brain damage was not recognized until 30 years ago. That alcohol damages the brain by driving neurons to commit suicide was discovered only very recently. Now, we are finding that anesthetic drugs can also have this effect, and Dr. Susser's findings raise the question whether the same is true for lead."

"Based on the evidence I have seen, it is quite certain that anesthetic drugs do delete nerve cells from the developing animal brain," said Olney, "But, to wh
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Contact: Monica Amarelo
mamarelo@aaas.org
206-774-6330
American Association for the Advancement of Science
13-Feb-2004


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