Eye movement tasks can be used to assess fetal alcohol spectrum disorders

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) refers to a wide array of adverse developmental outcomes in children due to prenatal alcohol exposure. FASD is more widespread than Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which is more severe, but FASD is harder to accurately diagnose because of fewer objective diagnostic tools. New research indicates than simple eye-movement or oculomotor tasks can be used to assess individuals with FASD.

Results are published in the March issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"Whereas oculomotor tasks have been used to assess brain function in a number of different clinical populations, this is the first such study to be carried out in FASD children," said James N. Reynolds, professor of pharmacology & toxicology at Queen's University and corresponding author for the study. "We wanted to assess the feasibility of using this tool to probe different aspects of brain function and behavior in this specific clinical population."

The impetus for this research was a casual conversation on an airplane on the way back from a neuroscience conference, said Reynolds. "I had been wrestling with the problem of translating basic science research into relevant clinical studies of individuals affected by prenatal exposure to alcohol," he recounted. "There were few, if any, objective tools that could be used to assess brain function in FASD subjects." In the end, Reynolds collaborated with coauthor Doug Munoz, who had for years been using eye-movement tasks to study brain function and behavior in different clinical populations, including children.

Study authors compared the oculomotor performance of 10 children with FASD (4 males, 6 females) with 12 age-matched control subjects (6 males, 6 females). All were instructed to either look toward (prosaccade) or away from (antisaccade) a stimulus that appeared in their peripheral visual field. Researchers measured reaction times, direction errors, and sh

Contact: James N. Reynolds, Ph.D.
Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research

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