A new MRI study found that even light to moderate alcohol consumption during pregnancy can alter the brain structure of the developing child. The Radiological Society of North America annual meeting, where the study’s findings will be unveiled the following week, is where the research will first make its public appearance.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are a collection of medical problems that can be brought on by alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Premature infants exposed to alcohol during pregnancy may grow up to have cognitive impairments, behavioral issues, and linguistic delays.
MRI scans of 24 babies with prenatal alcohol exposure were evaluated for the study. The fetal MRIs were performed between the ages of 22 and 36 weeks. The moms’ alcohol use was gauged by confidential questionnaires.
The right superior temporal sulcus (STS) was shallower and the fetal total maturation score (fTMS) was lower in alcohol-exposed fetuses compared to controls of the same gestational age. The STS has a role in a variety of mental processes, including language comprehension, social awareness, and audio-visual processing.
There were three mothers who drank between one and three times weekly, and two who drank between four and six times weekly. On a weekly basis, one mom had at least 14 drinks. Six of the moms also admitted to engaging in binge drinking (defined as more than four drinks in one sitting) while carrying their children.
The study authors hypothesized that a lack of gyrification in the frontal and occipital lobes and a later stage of myelination in the developing fetal brain were causally linked.
Myelination plays an essential role in the proper functioning of the brain and nervous system. Myelin insulates and speeds up communication between nerve cells. Myelination is directly associated with crucial newborn developmental milestones such as rolling over, crawling, and language processing.
The process by which the cerebral cortex folds, known as gyrification, is described. Through this folding, the cortex’s surface area is increased while taking up the same volume in the skull. Decreased functioning is associated with decreased gyrification.