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Keywords:

  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI);
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI);
  • Brain;
  • Fetal Alcohol (FAS, FASD)

Background: Prenatal alcohol exposure, which is associated with macrostructural brain abnormalities, neurocognitive deficits, and behavioral disturbances, is characterized as fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) in severe cases. The only published study thus far using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) showed microstructural abnormalities in patients with FAS. The current study investigated whether similar abnormalities are present in less severely affected, prenatally exposed patients who did not display all of the typical FAS physical stigmata.

Methods: Subjects included 14 children, ages 10 to 13, with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) and 13 matched controls. Cases with full-criteria FAS, mental retardation, or microcephaly were excluded. Subjects underwent MRI scans including DTI.

Results: Although cases with microcephaly were excluded, there was a trend toward smaller total cerebral volume in the FASD group (p=0.057, Cohen's d effect size =0.73). Subjects with FASD had greater mean diffusivity (MD) in the isthmus of the corpus callosum than controls (p=0.013, effect size =1.05), suggesting microstructural abnormalities in this region. There were no group differences in 5 other regions of the corpus callosum. Correlations between MD in the isthmus and facial dysmorphology were nonsignificant.

Conclusions: These results suggest that even relatively mild forms of fetal alcohol exposure may be associated with microstructural abnormalities in the posterior corpus callosum that are detectable with DTI.