Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging (MRSI) offer unique, noninvasive methods of measuring, respectively, in vivo quantitative neuroanatomy and neurochemistry. The main purpose of the present study was to identify and compare the neuroanatomical and neurochemical abnormalities that are associated with prenatal exposure to alcohol in both fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)-diagnosed children and those diagnosed with fetal alcohol effects (FAE). MR data of three age-, gender- and race-balanced groups of children, FAS-diagnosed, FAE-diagnosed and non-exposed controls, were compared. Effects of prenatal alcohol exposure, regardless of diagnosis, were found in the caudate nucleus. Specifically, a significantly smaller caudate nucleus was found for the FAS and FAE participants compared to the controls. In addition, the metabolite ratio of N-acetyl-aspartate to creatine (NAA/Cr), an indicator of neuronal function, in left caudate nucleus of both the FAS and FAE participants was elevated compared to the control group. Analysis of absolute concentrations revealed that the increase in the ratio of NAA/Cr was due to an increase in NAA alone. Although its exact function in the CNS is unknown, NAA is believed to be a neuronal marker due to its exclusive localization to neurons. Some also speculate a role for NAA in myelination. Elevated NAA in the prenatal alcohol-exposed participants could indicate a lack of normal program cell death, dendritic pruning and/or myelination during development. The present study demonstrates that prenatal alcohol-exposed children, with or without facial dysmorphology, have abnormal brain anatomy and chemistry.
- Caudate nucleus
- Fetal alcohol syndrome
- Magnetic resonance imaging spectroscopy