Brain dysmorphology in individuals with severe prenatal alcohol exposure

Dev Med Child Neurol. 2001 Mar;43(3):148-54.


Our previous studies revealed abnormalities on structural MRI (sMRI) in small groups of children exposed to alcohol prenatally. Microcephaly, disproportionately reduced basal ganglia volume, and abnormalities of the cerebellar vermis and corpus callosum were demonstrated. The present study used sMRI to examine in detail the regional pattern of brain hypoplasia resulting from prenatal exposure to alcohol using a higher resolution imaging protocol and larger sample sizes than reported previously. Fourteen participants (mean 11.4 years; eight females, six males) with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and 12 participants (mean 14.8 years; four females, eight males) with prenatal exposure to alcohol (PEA) but without the facial features of FAS were compared to a group of 41 control participants (mean 12.8 years, 20 females, 21 males). Findings of significant microcephaly and disproportionately reduced basal ganglia volumes in the FAS group were confirmed. Novel findings were that in FAS participants, white matter volumes were more affected than gray matter volumes in the cerebrum, and parietal lobes were more affected than temporal and occipital lobes. Among subcortical structures, in contrast to the disproportionate effects on caudate nucleus, the hippocampus was relatively preserved in FAS participants. Differences between the PEA group and controls were generally non-significant; however, among a few of the structures most affected in FAS participants, there was some evidence for volume reduction in PEA participants as well, specifically in basal ganglia and the parietal lobe. There were no group differences in cerebral volume asymmetries. Severe prenatal alcohol exposure appears to produce a specific pattern of brain hypoplasia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Basal Ganglia / abnormalities
  • Basal Ganglia / pathology
  • Brain / abnormalities*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Caudate Nucleus / abnormalities
  • Caudate Nucleus / pathology
  • Child
  • Female
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Microcephaly / diagnosis
  • Microcephaly / pathology
  • Parietal Lobe / abnormalities
  • Parietal Lobe / pathology
  • Pregnancy