Altered frontal-parietal functioning during verbal working memory in children and adolescents with heavy prenatal alcohol exposure



This study evaluated the neural basis of verbal working memory (WM) function in a group of 20 children and adolescents with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) and 20 typically developing comparison participants using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Both groups showed prominent activation in the frontal-parietal-cerebellar network known to be important for verbal WM. Despite equivalent behavioral performance between groups, alcohol-exposed individuals showed increased activation relative to typically developing individuals in left dorsal frontal and left inferior parietal cortices, and bilateral posterior temporal regions during verbal WM. These effects remained even when group differences on IQ were statistically controlled. This pattern of increased activation coupled with equivalent behavioral performance between groups suggests that individuals with FASD recruit a more extensive network of brain regions during verbal WM relative to typically developing individuals. These findings may suggest that frontal-parietal processing during verbal WM is less efficient in alcohol-exposed individuals. Hum Brain Mapp 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.