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Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2007;31(2):239-45. Epub 2006 Nov 9.

Neuroimaging and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

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Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology, San Diego State University/University of California, San Diego, CA, USA.


Heavy prenatal alcohol exposure causes permanent structural alterations to the brain and can lead to numerous cognitive and behavioral outcomes. Consistent with many of the neuropsychological and behavioral deficits that have been reported, neuroimaging studies reveal a pattern of structural abnormalities associated with prenatal alcohol exposure. This chapter systematically reviews structural anomalies by brain region, identifying cognitive and behavioral correlates when relevant. The consensus shows that in addition to the overall reduction of brain size, prominent brain shape abnormalities have been observed, with narrowing in the parietal region and reduced brain growth in portions of the frontal lobe. Commensurating with these anomalies, volumetric and tissue density findings cite disproportionate reductions in the parietal lobe, cerebellar vermis, corpus callosum, and the caudate nucleus, suggesting that certain areas of the brain may be especially vulnerable to prenatal alcohol exposure. In sum, neuroimaging techniques have greatly advanced our understanding of brain-behavior relationships in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), and hopefully will lead to improved diagnosis and treatment options for those affected by prenatal exposure to alcohol.

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