Developmental Trajectories for Visuo-Spatial Attention are Altered by Prenatal Alcohol Exposure: A Longitudinal FMRI Study

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Abstract

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) reveals brain activation abnormalities during visuo-spatial attention and working memory among those with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) in cross-sectional reports, but little is known about how activation changes over time during development within FASD or typically developing children. We studied 30 controls and 31 individuals with FASD over 2 years (7–14 years at first participation) with a total of 122 scans, as part of the Collaborative Initiative on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. Despite comparable performance, there were significant group differences in visuo-spatial activation over time bilaterally in frontal, parietal, and temporal regions. Controls showed an increase in signal intensity in these multiple regions whereas FASD participants showed a decrease in brain activation. Effects were also found in 2 small independent samples from the USA, corroborating the findings from the larger group. Results suggest that the long-lasting effect of prenatal alcohol may impact the maturation of visuo-spatial attention and differentiate those with FASD from controls. Based on this first longitudinal fMRI study in FASD children, our novel findings suggest a possible neural mechanism for attention deficits common among individuals with FASD.

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