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Prenatal alcohol exposure alters brain activity in the frontal-striatal areas

n Diego State University, which is overseen by study co-author and laboratory director Edward P. Riley. All participants 13 with and nine without histories of heavy prenatal alcohol exposure underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while performing a response inhibition (go/no-go) task, designed to test their ability to inhibit or curb a previously encouraged response.

"We found two regions within the prefrontal cortex where the youth with alcohol-exposure histories had increased brain activation and one area in the subcortex (called the caudate nucleus) where the alcohol-exposed youth had decreased brain activation, said Fryer. Exactly what these differences in brain activation indicate is not known, as the nature of the blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) response patterns, measured via fMRI, is still under study. One possible explanation is that the increase in prefrontal cortical activation means that the alcohol-exposed youth need to devote more cortical resources than their typically developing peers to complete the task. Another possibility is that the connectivity - [meaning] how different brain regions cooperate and communicate together - between frontal-striatal regions is altered in brains with prenatal alcohol exposure."

Fryer thinks that these findings may have implications for the brains of chronic adult alcohol users. "There is research showing that individuals who have been exposed to alcohol during gestation are more likely to develop substance-use disorders themselves," she said. "This finding is independent of other factors that might also influence development of alcoholism, like having biological relatives with alcoholism."

Fryer said that this neuroimaging study supports 30 years of previous research. "Prenatal alcohol exposure can cause damage to the brain that results in significant problems with regulating behavior and optimal thinking and learning," she said.


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24-Jul-2007


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