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Keywords:

  • fetal alcohol spectrum disorders;
  • FAS;
  • cortical morphology;
  • fold opening

Abstract

Prenatal alcohol exposure is responsible for a broad range of brain structural malformations, which can be studied using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Advanced MRI methods have emerged to characterize brain abnormalities, but the teratogenic effects of alcohol on cortical morphology have received little attention to date. Twenty-four 9-year-old children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (9 with fetal alcohol syndrome, 15 heavy exposed nonsyndromal children) and 16 age-matched controls were studied to assess the effect of alcohol consumption during pregnancy on cortical morphology. An automated method was applied to 3D T1-weighted images to assess cortical gyrification using global and regional sulcal indices and two region-based morphological measurements, mean sulcal depth and fold opening. Increasing levels of alcohol exposure were related to reduced cortical folding complexity, even among children with normal brain size, indicating a reduction of buried cortical surface. Fold opening was the strongest anatomical correlate of prenatal alcohol intake, indicating a widening of sulci in all regions that were examined. These data identify cortical morphology as a suitable marker for further investigation of brain damage associated with prenatal alcohol exposure. Hum Brain Mapp 35:2285–2296, 2014. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.