White matter, a portion of the prenatal brain, has been found to be specially sensitive to the effects of alcohol intake. This area consists of nerve fibers that facilitate the exchange and transmission of information within the central nervous system. A new study has found the mechanisms through which alcohol use during pregnancy can impair the development of the cerebral white matter in the frontal and occipital lobes of the brain. The findings of the research will help to explain the dysfunctions and visual impairment that are linked to exposure to alcohol.
The results of the study will be published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental research in March of this year.
According to the study’s corresponding author, Susanna L. Fryer of the San Diego State University’s Center for Behavioral Teratology, studying the effect of prenatal alcohol exposure on the alterations in white-matter integrity “may help explain certain aspects of the cognitive and behavioral problems that individuals with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) commonly face.”
In the past, there have been several studies on FASD that used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to analyze the brain’s white matter. The technique that was used is called Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI), which, unlike other MRI techniques, is able to come up with measures of the status of of biological tissue in the said brain area at the microstructural level. This allows the scientists to see more detailed damages on the prenatal brain that was exposed to alcohol.
“The brains of individuals with FASDs showed evidence of altered nerve fiber integrity at a microstructural level, even though total brain size was statistically equivalent between alcohol-exposed and comparison participants,” says Fryer. “Also, within the alcohol-exposed group, we generally found that white-matter microstructure did not differ based on whether youth met criteria for a diagnosis of fetal alcohol syndrome. In other words, similar brain alterations and behavioral problems can occur because of prenatal alcohol exposure, with or without the facial features and physical growth insufficiency required to diagnose FAS.”
What makes this particular study different was that it went beyond the abnormalities in the brain’s white matter in the corpus collosum, which is the usual point of study in other research. This particular study also examined the white matter in the brain’s frontal and occipital lobes.
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