Trajectories of brain white matter development in young children with prenatal alcohol exposure

Kar, P., Reynolds, J. E., Gibbard, W. B., McMorris, C., Tortorelli, C., & Lebel, C. (2022). Trajectories of brain white matter development in young children with prenatal alcohol exposure. Human Brain Mapping, 1–13.

Prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) is associated with alterations to brain white matter microstructure. Previous studies of PAE have demonstrated different findings in young children compared to older children and adolescents, suggesting altered developmental trajectories and highlighting the need for longitudinal research. 122 datasets in 54 children with PAE (27 males) and 196 datasets in 89 children without PAE (45 males) were included in this analysis. Children underwent diffusion tensor imaging between 2 and 8 years of age, returning approximately every 6 months. Mean fractional anisotropy (FA) and mean diffusivity (MD) were obtained for 10 major brain white matter tracts and examined for age-related changes using linear mixed effects models with age, sex, group (PAE vs. control) and an age-by-group interaction. Children with PAE had slower decreases of MD over time in the genu of the corpus callosum, inferior fronto occipital fasciculus, inferior longitudinal fasciculus, and uncinate fasciculus. No significant age by group interactions were noted for FA. These findings show slower white matter development in young children with PAE than in unexposed controls. This connects previous cross-sectional findings of lower MD in young children with PAE to findings of higher MD in older children and adolescents with PAE, and further helps to understand brain development in children with PAE. This deviation from typical development trajectories may reflect altered brain plasticity, which has implications for cognitive and behavioral learning in children with PAE.

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