Altered neurometabolites and motor integration in children exposed to methamphetamine in utero

Neuroimage. 2009 Nov 1;48(2):391-7. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.06.062. Epub 2009 Jul 1.


Methamphetamine (METH) is a neurotoxic drug. This study aimed to evaluate brain metabolite levels and cognitive function in young children with prenatal METH exposure. 101 children ages 3-4 years were evaluated with neuropsychological tests and underwent proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy ((1)H-MRS) without sedation. Complete datasets from 49 METH-exposed and 49 controls who completed the neuropsychological test battery, and 38 METH-exposed and 37 controls with high-quality MR spectra are reported here. Despite similar physical characteristics (including head circumference), global cognitive function (on Stanford-Binet), parental education, intelligence, mood, and socioeconomic status, METH-exposed children had higher total creatine (tCr: +7%, p=0.003), N-acetyl compounds (NA: +4.3%, p=0.004) and glutamate+glutamine (GLX: +9.6%, p=0.02) concentrations in the frontal white matter, but lower myoinositol (MI: -7%, p=0.01) and MI/tCr (-7.5%, p=0.03) in the thalamus, than control children. The higher frontal white matter NA in the METH-exposed children was due to the higher NA in the METH-exposed girls (+10.2%, p=0.003), but not the boys (+0.8%) compared to sex-matched controls. Furthermore, the METH-exposed children had poorer performance on a visual motor integration (VMI) task, which correlated with lower MI in the thalamus (r=0.26, p=0.03). The higher NA, tCr and GLX concentrations suggest higher neuronal density or cellular compactness in the white matter, especially in the girls, whereas the lower MI suggests lower glial content in the thalamus of these METH-expose children. These findings combined with their poorer performance on VMI also suggest accelerated but aberrant neuronal and glial development in these brain regions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Caregivers
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / toxicity*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Male
  • Methamphetamine / toxicity*
  • Mothers
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Protons
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects*
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Socioeconomic Factors


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Protons
  • Methamphetamine