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Abnormal Brain Development Found to Be Associated with Prenatal Exposure to Meth

A new study found that methamphetamine abuse during pregnancy can cause a child’s abnormal brain development. This is the first study ever conducted that examines the effects of prenatal exposure to the drug.

“Methamphetamine use is an increasing problem among women of childbearing age, leading to an increasing number of children with prenatal meth exposure, says Linda Chang, MD of the John A. Burns School of Medicine in the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. The study’s lead author further explained that to this day, little is known about how prenatal meth exposure can affect the development of the child’s brain.

The said study performed brain scans on 29 children, aged three to four years old, whose mothers have used meth during pregnancy and 37 children of the same age whose mothers are clear of drug use. Suing the diffusion tensor imaging in MRI scans, the scientists tried to measure molecular diffusion in the brain.

“The scans showed that children with prenatal meth exposure had differences in the white matter structure and maturation of their brains compared to unexposed children.” The children who were exposed to meth had lower molecular diffusion by as much as four percent in their brain white mater.

According to Chang, the findings of the study suggest that prenatal meth exposure seems to cause an acceleration of brain development to abnormal levels. “Such abnormal brain development may explain why some children with prenatal meth exposure reach developmental milestones later than others,” she added.

Previous studies have already shown that prenatal exposure to meth can lead to increased lethargy and stress as well as to poor quality of movement among infants. Stunted brain development is another addition to the long list of negative consequences that meth abuse during pregnancy brings.

“While we don’t know how prenatal meth exposure may lead to lower brain diffusion, less diffusion of molecules in the white matter typically reflects more compact axonal fibers in the brain,” says Chang. “This is consistent with our prior findings of smaller subcortical structures in children with prenatal meth exposure, which is the portion of the brain immediately below the cerebral cortex.

The said study was published in the April 15 edition of the online journal Neurology.

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