Heavy prenatal alcohol exposure does not always lead to fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS); sometimes it can lead to cognitive and behavioral deficits in the absence of craniofacial features needed to make an FAS diagnosis. A new study has found that children and adolescents prenatally exposed to alcohol have altered responses in frontal-striatal areas, brain regions that may inhibit behavior.
Results are published in the August issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
"Prenatal alcohol exposure is a major public health concern, both here in the U.S. and internationally," said Susanna L. Fryer, a fourth-year graduate student in the San Diego State University/University of California, San Diego joint doctoral program in Clinical Psychology. "Experts estimate that nine per 1000 births in this country show evidence of clinically significant effects of prenatal alcohol exposure."
Inattention and behavioral disinhibition are considered hallmark features of prenatal alcohol exposure, added Fryer, also the study's corresponding author.
"Anecdotal observations from parents, other caregivers, and teachers of individuals with prenatal alcohol exposure tell of poor behavioral regulation," said Fryer. According to the study, individuals with FASD are at greater risk for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other psychiatric diseases linked with poor inhibitory control. Also, in a possible reflection of poor behavioral regulation, individuals with histories of prenatal alcohol exposure are thought to be over-represented in the criminal-justice system," she said.
Previous research had suggested that the frontal-subcortical brain regions that are thought to be responsible for behavioral inhibition are damaged by prenatal exposure to alcohol.
For this paper, researchers examined 22 children and adolescents (ages 8 to 18), part of a larger study at the Center for Behavioral Teratology, Sa