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Pediatr Neurol. 2012 Jul;47(1):1-6. doi: 10.1016/j.pediatrneurol.2012.04.008.

Neural tract development of infants born to methadone-maintained mothers.

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Center for the Study of Human Cognition, Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway.


The early cerebral connective tract development of infants born to methadone-maintained mothers and comparison infants was examined using diffusion tensor imaging. Drawing on animal models, we hypothesized higher mean diffusivity in methadone-exposed infants, corresponding to the delayed or altered maturation of neural connective tracts. Thirteen methadone-exposed infants and seven comparison infants were scanned within 13-44 days after birth. Mean diffusivity was compared across groups voxelwise throughout a common white matter skeleton defined for the sample, and in probabilistically defined tracts of interest overlapping the skeleton, i.e., the superior and inferior longitudinal fasciculi. Higher mean diffusivity (P < 0.05) in methadone-exposed infants was evident in the superior longitudinal fasciculus regionally by voxelwise analysis and whole-tract analysis. These results are preliminary, given the small sample. However, all observed effects were in the hypothesized direction, with methadone-exposed infants exhibiting higher mean diffusivity, suggesting altered maturation of connective tracts. Such differences may underlie some of the increased risk for cognitive and behavioral difficulties in children born to mothers using opioids. These findings highlight the need for further assessments of the effects of prenatal methadone exposure on neural development.

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