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Persistent Dose-Dependent Changes in Brain Structure in Young Adults with Low-to-Moderate Alcohol Exposure In Utero

Authors

  • Kristen L. Eckstrand,

    1. Department of Radiology and Radiological Sciences , Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee
    2. Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee
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  • Zhaohua Ding,

    1. Department of Radiology and Radiological Sciences , Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee
    2. Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee
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  • Neil C. Dodge,

    1. Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences , Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, Michigan;
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  • Ronald L. Cowan,

    1. Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee
    2. Department of Psychiatry, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee
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  • Joseph L. Jacobson,

    1. Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences , Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, Michigan;
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  • Sandra W. Jacobson,

    1. Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences , Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, Michigan;
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  • Malcolm J. Avison

    Corresponding author
    1. Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee
    • Department of Radiology and Radiological Sciences , Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee
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Reprint requests: Malcolm J. Avison, PhD, Department of Radiology and Radiological Sciences, Vanderbilt University Institute for Imaging Science, AAA3101 MCN, Nashville, TN 37212; Tel.: 615-343-0522; Fax: 615-322-0734; E-mail: calum.avison@vanderbilt.edu; Sandra W. Jacobson, PhD, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, Wayne State University School of Medicine, 2751 E. Jefferson, Suite 460, Detroit, MI 48207; Tel.: 313-993-5454; Fax: 313-993-3427; E-mail: sandra.jacobson@wayne.edu

Abstract

Background

Many children with heavy exposure to alcohol in utero display characteristic alterations in brain size and structure. However, the long-term effects of low-to-moderate alcohol exposure on these outcomes are unknown.

Methods

Using voxel-based morphometry and region-of-interest analyses, we examined the influence of lower doses of alcohol on gray and white matter composition in a prospectively recruited, homogeneous, well-characterized cohort of alcohol-exposed (= 11, age 19.5 ± 0.3 years) and control (= 9, age 19.6 ± 0.5 years) young adults. A large proportion of the exposed individuals were born to mothers whose alcohol consumption during pregnancy was in the low-to-moderate range.

Results

There were no differences in total brain volume or total gray or white matter volume between the exposed and control groups. However, gray matter volume was reduced in alcohol-exposed individuals in several areas previously reported to be affected by high levels of exposure, including the left cingulate gyrus, bilateral middle frontal gyri, right middle temporal gyrus, and right caudate nucleus. Notably, this gray matter loss was dose dependent, with higher exposure producing more substantial losses.

Conclusions

These results indicate that even at low doses, alcohol exposure during pregnancy impacts brain development and that these effects persist into young adulthood.

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