Nakhid, D., McMorris, C., Sun, H., Gibbard, W.B., Tortorelli, C. and Lebel, C. (2022), Brain volume and magnetic susceptibility differences in children and adolescents with prenatal alcohol exposure. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. Accepted Author Manuscript. https://doi.org/10.1111/acer.14928
Prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) can negatively affect brain development thereby increasing the risk of cognitive deficits, behavioural challenges, and mental health problems. Brain iron is important for a number of physiological processes for healthy brain development. Animal studies suggest that PAE alters brain iron; however, this has not been investigated in human children with PAE.
We studied twenty children and adolescents with PAE and 44 unexposed children and adolescents aged 7.5-15 years. All children completed quantitative susceptibility mapping (QSM) and T1-weighted MRI scans. Susceptibility and volume measurements of the caudate, putamen, pallidum, thalamus, amygdala, hippocampus, and nucleus accumbens were extracted using FreeSurfer. ANCOVAs were used to compare volume and susceptibility between groups for each region of interest, controlling for age and gender. For structures where susceptibility differed by group, we also tested for an association between IQ and susceptibility.
There were no significant group differences in susceptibility after multiple comparison correction, though the PAE group had higher susceptibility in the thalamus compared to unexposed participants before correction (p=.032, q=.230). The PAE group had significantly lower volume in the bilateral caudate, bilateral pallidum, and left putamen. There was no association between IQ and thalamus susceptibility.
These findings suggest susceptibility may be altered in children and adolescents with PAE, though more research is needed. Volume reductions are consistent with previous literature and likely underlie cognitive and behavioural deficits associated with PAE.