For years, medical professionals have been aware of the negative impacts of alcohol consumption during pregnancy on childhood development.
Now researchers from the Medical University of Vienna have released data from an MRI study of the brains of fetuses whose mothers admitted to consuming alcohol while pregnant.
The study is the first of its kind. [i]
To conduct the study, the team from Vienna recruited 500 women who were referred for fetal MRIs for various clinical reasons. Each of the women was then screened for alcohol use during pregnancy. Twenty-six women in the group admitted to drinking while pregnant and were included in the study. They were matched with 52 gender and age-matched women who reported not consuming alcohol during pregnancy. Fetal MRIs then followed.
The research team used super-resolution to analyze the MRIs of 12 sub-parts of each child’s brain.
A statistical analysis of the scans revealed two major changes in the brains of fetuses whose mothers drank during the pregnancy; an increased volume in the corpus collosum and a decreased volume in the periventricular zone. Those changes were not present in the control group.
The corpus collosum is the structure connecting the two hemispheres of the brain. The periventricular zone is where all neurons are born. According to co-author Marlene Stuempflen, M.D., scientific researcher at the Medical University of Vienna, “the changes found in the periventricular zone… also reflect a global effect on brain development and function.”
Gregor Kasprian, M.D., associate professor of radiology at the Medical University of Vienna and co-author, said of the study results, “It appears that alcohol exposure during pregnancy puts the brain on a path of development that diverges from a normal trajectory.”
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