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J Int Neuropsychol Soc. 2008 Nov;14(6):1022-33. doi: 10.1017/S1355617708081368.

Effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on hippocampal volume, verbal learning, and verbal and spatial recall in late childhood.

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Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Program, Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


Children with prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) show deficits in verbal learning and spatial memory, as well as abnormal hippocampal development. The relationship between their memory and neuroanatomic impairments, however, has not been directly explored. Given that the hippocampus is integral for the synthesis and retrieval of learned information and is particularly vulnerable to the teratogenic effects of alcohol, we assessed whether reduced learning and recall abilities in children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) are associated with abnormal hippocampal volumes. Nineteen children with FASDs and 18 typically developing controls aged 9 to 15 years were assessed for verbal learning and verbal and spatial recall and underwent structural magnetic resonance imaging. Images were analyzed for total intracranial volume and for right and left hippocampal volumes. Results revealed smaller left hippocampi and poorer verbal learning and verbal and spatial recall performance in children with FASDs than controls, as well as positive correlations between selective memory indices and hippocampal volumes only in the FASD group. Additionally, hippocampal volumes increased significantly with age in controls only, suggesting that PAE may be associated with long-term abnormalities in hippocampal development that may contribute to impaired verbal learning and verbal and spatial recall.

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