Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can lead to a variety of cognitive and other birth defects, collectively termed fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), and including the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). This study examined the impact of gestational alcohol exposure on the morphology of the cingulate gyrus, given this region's role in cognitive control, attention, and emotional regulation, all of which are affected in children with FASD. Thirty-one youth (ages 8-16) with histories of heavy prenatal alcohol exposure (n=21) and demographically matched comparison subjects (n=10) underwent structural magnetic resonance imaging. The cingulate gyrus was manually delineated, and parcellated volumes of grey and white matter were compared across groups. Alcohol-exposed individuals had significantly smaller raw cingulate grey matter, white matter, and tissue volumes compared with controls. After adjustment for respective cranial tissue constituents, only white matter volumes remained significantly reduced, and this held regardless of whether or not the child qualified for a diagnosis of FAS. A correlation between posterior cingulate grey matter volume and the WISC-III Freedom from Distractibility Index was also observed in alcohol-exposed children. These data suggest that cingulate white matter is compromised beyond global white matter hypoplasia in alcohol-exposed individuals, regardless of FAS diagnosis. The observed volumetric reductions in the cingulate gyrus may contribute to the disruptive and emotionally dysregulated behavioral profile commonly observed in this population.
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