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Transl Psychiatry. 2012 Mar 6;2:e84. doi: 10.1038/tp.2012.12.

Prenatal exposure to cigarette smoke or alcohol and cerebellum volume in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and typical development.

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  • 1Neuroimaging Laboratory, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Rudolf Magnus Institute of Neuroscience, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands.


Prenatal exposure to teratogenic substances, such as nicotine or alcohol, increases the risk of developing attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). To date, studies examining this relationship have used symptom scales as outcome measures to assess the effect of prenatal exposure, and have not investigated the neurobiological pathways involved. This study explores the effect of prenatal exposure to cigarettes or alcohol on brain volume in children with ADHD and typically developing controls. Children with ADHD who had been exposed prenatally to either substance were individually matched to children with and without ADHD who had not been. Controls who had been exposed prenatally were also individually matched to controls who had not been. For prenatal exposure to both smoking and alcohol, we found a pattern where subjects with ADHD who had been exposed had the smallest brain volumes and unexposed controls had the largest, with intermediate volumes for unexposed subjects with ADHD. This effect was most pronounced for cerebellum. A similar reduction fell short of significance for controls who had been exposed to cigarettes, but not alcohol. Our results are consistent with an additive effect of prenatal exposure and ADHD on brain volume, with the effects most pronounced for cerebellum.

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