The study of the function and structure of the human brain dates back centuries, when philosophers and physicians theorized about the localization of specific cognitive functions and the structure and organization of underlying brain tissue. In more recent years, the advent of non-invasive techniques such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) has allowed scientists unprecedented opportunities to further our understanding not only of structure and function, but of trajectories of brain development in typical and a-typical child and adult populations. In this chapter, we hope to provide a system-level approach to introduce what we have learned about structural brain development from conception through adulthood. We discuss important findings from MRI studies, and the directions that future imaging studies can take in the concerted effort to enhance our understanding of brain development, and thus to enhance our ability to develop interventions for various neuro developmental disorders.
Human brain; Maturation; Cortical thickness; Brain volume; Cortical area; Postnatal and subcortical; Development
Prenatal alcohol exposure and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) result in behavioral issues related to poor executive function (EF). This overlap may hinder clinical identification of alcohol-exposed children. This study examined the relation between parent and neuropsychological measures of EF and whether parent ratings aid in differential diagnosis. Neuropsychological measures of EF, including the Delis-Kaplan Executive Function System (D-KEFS), were administered to four groups of children (8–16 years): alcohol-exposed with ADHD (AE+, n = 80), alcohol-exposed without ADHD (AE−, n = 36), non-exposed with ADHD (ADHD, n = 93), and controls (CON, n = 167). Primary caregivers completed the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF). For parent ratings, multivariate analyses of variance revealed main effects of Exposure and ADHD and an interaction between these factors, with significant differences between all groups on nearly all BRIEF scales. For neuropsychological measures, results indicated main effects of Exposure and ADHD, but no interaction. Discriminant function analysis indicated the BRIEF accurately classifies groups. These findings confirm compounded behavioral, but not neuropsychological, effects in the AE+ group over the other clinical groups. Parent-report was not correlated with neuropsychological performance in the clinical groups and may provide unique information about neurobehavior. Parent-report measures are clinically useful in predicting alcohol exposure regardless of ADHD. Results contribute to a neurobehavioral profile of prenatal alcohol exposure.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD); Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS); Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF); Pediatric neuropsychology; Parent-report; Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
The NIH Toolbox Cognition Battery (NTCB) was designed to provide a brief, efficient computerized test of key neuropsychological functions appropriate for use in children as young as 3 years of age. This report describes the performance of a large group of typically developing children and adolescents and examines the impact of age and sociocultural variables on test performance.
The NTCB was administered to a sample of 1020 typically developing males and females ranging in age from 3 to 20 years, diverse in terms of socioeconomic status (SES) and race/ethnicity, as part of the new publicly accessible Pediatric Imaging, Neurocognition, and Genetics (PING) data resource, at 9 sites across the United States.
General additive models of nonlinear age-functions were estimated from age-differences in test performance on the 8 NTCB subtests while controlling for family SES and genetic ancestry factors (GAFs). Age accounted for the majority of the variance across all NTCB scores, with additional significant contributions of gender on some measures, and of SES and race/ethnicity (GAFs) on all. After adjusting for age and gender, SES and GAFs explained a substantial proportion of the remaining unexplained variance in Picture Vocabulary scores.
The results highlight the sensitivity to developmental effects and efficiency of this new computerized assessment battery for neurodevelopmental research. Limitations are observed in the form of some ceiling effects in older children, some floor effects, particularly on executive function tests in the youngest participants, and evidence for variable measurement sensitivity to cultural/socioeconomic factors.
Computerized Assessment; Cognitive Development; Socioeconomic Status
Written and verbal language are neurobehavioral traits vital to the development of communication skills. Unfortunately, disorders involving these traits—specifically reading disability (RD) and language impairment (LI)—are common and prevent affected individuals from developing adequate communication skills, leaving them at risk for adverse academic, socioeconomic, and psychiatric outcomes. Both RD and LI are complex traits that frequently co-occur, leading us to hypothesize that these disorders share genetic etiologies. To test this, we performed a genome wide association study on individuals affected with both RD and LI in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. The strongest associations were seen with markers in ZNF385D (OR=1.81, p=5.45 × 10−7) and COL4A2 (OR=1.71, p=7.59×10−7). Markers within NDST4 showed the strongest associations with LI individually (OR=1.827, p=1.40×10−7). We replicated association of ZNF385D using receptive vocabulary measures in the Pediatric Imaging Neurocognitive Genetics study (p=0.00245). We then used diffusion tensor imaging fiber tract volume data on 16 fiber tracts to examine the implications of replicated markers. ZNF385D was a predictor of overall fiber tract volumes in both hemispheres, as well as global brain volume. Here, we present evidence for ZNF385D as a candidate gene for RD and LI. The implication of transcription factor ZNF385D in RD and LI underscores the importance of transcriptional regulation in the development of higher order neurocognitive traits. Further study is necessary to discern target genes of ZNF385D and how it functions within neural development of fluent language.
ALSPAC; Language Impairment; Reading Disability; Dyslexia GWAS; ZNF385D; PING
Neuropsychological functioning of individuals with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or heavy prenatal alcohol exposure has been well documented independently. This study examined the interaction between both factors on cognitive performance in children.
As part of a multisite study, 344 children (8-16y, M=12.28, SD=2.52) completed a comprehensive neuropsychological battery. Four subject groups were tested: children with histories of heavy prenatal alcohol exposure (AE) and ADHD (AE+, n=90), alcohol-exposed without ADHD, (AE−, n=38), non-exposed with ADHD (ADHD, n=80), and non-exposed without ADHD (CON, n=136).
Separate 2(AE) × 2(ADHD) MANCOVAs revealed significant main and interactive effects of ADHD and AE on overall WISC-IV, D-KEFS, and CANTAB performance. Individual ANOVAs revealed significant interactions on 2 WISC-IV indices [Verbal Comprehension (VCI), Perceptual Reasoning (PRI)], and four D-KEFS and CANTAB subtests [Design Fluency, Verbal Fluency, Trail Making, Spatial Working Memory]. Follow-up analyses demonstrated no difference between AE+ and AE− groups on any measures. The combined AE+/− group demonstrated more severe impairment than the ADHD group on VCI and PRI, but there were no other differences between clinical groups.
These results support a combined AE+/− group for neuropsychological research and indicate that, in some cases, the neuropsychological effects seen in ADHD are altered by prenatal alcohol exposure. The effects of alcohol exposure on verbal comprehension and perceptual reasoning were greater than those related to having ADHD without alcohol exposure, although both conditions independently resulted in cognitive impairment compared to controls. Clinically, these findings demonstrate task-dependent patterns of impairment across clinical disorders.
fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD); fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS); Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); neurobehavioral profile; specificity
Little is known about the effects of prenatal methamphetamine exposure on white matter microstructure, and the impact of concomitant alcohol exposure. Diffusion tensor imaging and neurocognitive testing were performed on 21 children with prenatal methamphetamine exposure (age 9.8±1.8 years; 17 also exposed to alcohol), 19 children with prenatal alcohol but not methamphetamine exposure (age 10.8±2.3 years), and 27 typically-developing children (age 10.3±3.3 years). Whole-brain maps of fractional anisotropy (FA) were evaluated using tract-based spatial statistics. Relative to unexposed controls, children with prenatal methamphetamine exposure demonstrated higher FA mainly in left-sided regions, including the left anterior corona radiata (LCR) and corticospinal tract (P<0.05, corrected). Post-hoc analyses of these FA differences showed they likely result more from lower radial diffusivity (RD) than higher axial diffusivity (AD). Relative to the methamphetamine-exposed group, children with prenatal alcohol exposure showed lower FA in frontotemporal regions – particularly the right external capsule (P<0.05, corrected). We failed to find any group-performance interaction (on tests of executive functioning and visuomotor integration) in predicting FA; however, FA in the right external capsule was significantly associated with performance on a test of visuomotor integration across groups (P<0.05). This report demonstrates unique diffusion abnormalities in children with prenatal methamphetamine/polydrug exposure that are distinct from those associated with alcohol exposure alone, and illustrates that these abnormalities in brain microstructure are persistent into childhood and adolescence – long after the polydrug exposure in utero.
methamphetamine; white matter; alcohol; diffusion imaging; teratogen; in utero
Individuals with heavy prenatal alcohol exposure can experience significant deficits in cognitive and psychosocial functioning and alterations in brain structure that persist into adulthood. In this report, data from 99 participants collected across three sites (Los Angeles and San Diego, California, and Cape Town, South Africa) were analyzed to examine relationships between brain structure, neurocognitive function, facial morphology, and maternal reports of quantities of alcohol consumption during the first trimester. Across study sites, we found highly significant volume reductions in the FASD group for all of the brain regions evaluated. After correcting for scan location, age, and total brain volume, these differences remained significant in some regions of the basal ganglia and diencephalon. In alcohol-exposed subjects, we found that smaller palpebral fissures were significantly associated with reduced volumes in the diencephalon bilaterally, that greater dysmorphology of the philtrum predicted smaller volumes in basal ganglia and diencephalic structures, and that lower IQ scores were associated with both smaller basal ganglia volumes and greater facial dysmorphology. In subjects from South Africa, we found a significant negative correlation between intracranial volume and total number of drinks per week in the first trimester. These results corroborate previous reports that prenatal alcohol exposure is particularly toxic to basal ganglia and diencephalic structures. We extend previous findings by illustrating relationships between specific measures of facial dysmorphology and the volumes of particular subcortical structures, and for the first time show that continuous measures of maternal alcohol consumption during the first trimester relates to overall brain volume reduction.
Prenatal Alcohol Exposure; Teratogenic Effects of alcohol; Facial Abnormalities; Brain Development; Developmental Defects
Children with prenatal exposure to cocaine are at higher risk for negative behavioral function and attention difficulties, and have demonstrated brain diffusion abnormalities in frontal white matter regions. However, brain regions beyond frontal and callosal areas have not been investigated using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). DTI data were collected on 42 youth aged 14–16 years; subjects were divided into three groups based on detailed exposure histories: those with prenatal exposure to cocaine but not alcohol (PCE, n=12), prenatal exposure to cocaine and alcohol (CAE, n=17), and controls (n=13). Tractography was performed and along-tract diffusion parameters were examined for group differences and correlations with executive function measures. In the right arcuate fasciculus and cingulum, the CAE group had higher fractional anisotropy (FA) and/or lower mean diffusivity (MD) than the other two groups. The PCE group demonstrated lower FA in the right arcuate and higher MD in the splenium of the corpus callosum than controls. Diffusion parameters in tracts with group differences correlated with measures of executive function. In conclusion, these diffusion differences in adolescents with prenatal cocaine exposure suggest localized, long-term structural brain alterations that may underlie attention and response inhibition difficulties.
diffusion tensor imaging; magnetic resonance imaging; white matter; tractography
Delta opioid receptors are implicated in a variety of psychiatric and neurological disorders. These receptors play a key role in the reinforcing properties of drugs of abuse, and polymorphisms in OPRD1 (the gene encoding delta opioid receptors) are associated with drug addiction. Delta opioid receptors are also involved in protecting neurons against hypoxic and ischemic stress. Here, we first examined a large sample of 738 elderly participants with neuroimaging and genetic data from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. We hypothesized that common variants in OPRD1 would be associated with differences in brain structure, particularly in regions relevant to addictive and neurodegenerative disorders. One very common variant (rs678849) predicted differences in regional brain volumes. We replicated the association of this single-nucleotide polymorphism with regional tissue volumes in a large sample of young participants in the Queensland Twin Imaging study. Although the same allele was associated with reduced volumes in both cohorts, the brain regions affected differed between the two samples. In healthy elderly, exploratory analyses suggested that the genotype associated with reduced brain volumes in both cohorts may also predict cerebrospinal fluid levels of neurodegenerative biomarkers, but this requires confirmation. If opiate receptor genetic variants are related to individual differences in brain structure, genotyping of these variants may be helpful when designing clinical trials targeting delta opioid receptors to treat neurological disorders.
neuroimaging; genetics; neurodegeneration; drug addiction; opiates
Diffusion imaging tractography is a valuable tool for neuroscience researchers because it allows the generation of individualized virtual dissections of major white matter tracts in the human brain. It facilitates between-subject statistical analyses tailored to the specific anatomy of each participant. There is prominent variation in diffusion imaging metrics (e.g., fractional anisotropy, FA) within tracts, but most tractography studies use a “tract-averaged” approach to analysis by averaging the scalar values from the many streamline vertices in a tract dissection into a single point-spread estimate for each tract. Here we describe a complete workflow needed to conduct an along-tract analysis of white matter streamline tract groups. This consists of 1) A flexible MATLAB toolkit for generating along-tract data based on B-spline resampling and compilation of scalar data at different collections of vertices along the curving tract spines, and 2) Statistical analysis and rich data visualization by leveraging tools available through the R platform for statistical computing. We demonstrate the effectiveness of such an along-tract approach over the tract-averaged approach in an example analysis of 10 major white matter tracts in a single subject. We also show that these techniques easily extend to between-group analyses typically used in neuroscience applications, by conducting an along-tract analysis of differences in FA between 9 individuals with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) and 11 typically-developing controls. This analysis reveals localized differences between FASD and control groups that were not apparent using a tract-averaged method. Finally, to validate our approach and highlight the strength of this extensible software framework, we implement 2 other methods from the literature and leverage the existing workflow tools to conduct a comparison study.
White matter; tractography; diffusion imaging; FASD; B-spline; along-tract
Brain structural abnormalities and neurocognitive dysfunction have been observed in individuals with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). Little is known about how white matter integrity is related to these functional and morphological deficits. We used a combination of diffusion tensor and T1-weighted magnetic resonance imaging to evaluate white matter integrity in individuals with FASDs and related these findings to neurocognitive deficits. Seventeen children and adolescents with FASDs were compared with 19 typically developing age-and gender-matched controls. Lower fractional anisotropy (FA) was observed in individuals with FASDs relative to controls in the right lateral temporal lobe and bilaterally in the lateral aspects of the splenium of the corpus callosum. White matter density was also lower in some, but not all regions in which FA was lower. FA abnormalities were confirmed to be in areas of white matter in post hoc region of interest analyses, further supporting that less myelin or disorganized fiber tracts are associated with heavy prenatal alcohol exposure. Significant correlations between performance on a test of visuomotor integration and FA in bilateral splenium, but not temporal regions were observed within the FASD group. Correlations between the visuomotor task and FA within the splenium were not significant with in the control group, and were not significant for measures of reading ability. This suggests that this region of white matter is particularly susceptible to damage from prenatal alcohol exposure and that disruption of splenial fibers in this group is associated with poorer visuomotor integration.
FAS; FASDs; DTI; VBM; corpus callosum; visuomotor integration
Development of syntactic processing was examined to evaluate maturational processes including left language lateralization functions and increased specialization of brain regions important for syntactic processing. We utilized multimodal methods, including indices of brain activity from fMRI during a syntactic processing task, cortical thickness measurements from structural MRI, and neuropsychological measures. To evaluate hypotheses about increasing lateralization and specialization with development, we examined relationships between cortical thickness and magnitude and spatial activation extent within the left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and its right hemisphere homologue. We predicted that increased activation in the left and decreased activation in the right IFG would be associated with increased syntactic proficiency. As predicted, a more mature pattern of increased thickness in the right pars triangularis was associated with decreased activation intensity and extent in the right IFG. These findings suggest a maturational shift towards decreased involvement of the right IFG for syntactic processing. Better syntactic skills were associated with increased activation in the left IFG independent from age, suggesting increased specialization of the left IFG with increased proficiency. Overall, our findings show relationships between structural and functional neurodevelopment that co-occur with improved syntactic processing in critical language regions of the IFG in typically developing children.
Syntax; language; typical development; lateralization; fMRI; multimodal
Heavy prenatal alcohol exposure (AE) results in a broad array of neurobehavioral deficits. Recent research has focused on identification of a neurobehavioral profile or profiles that will improve identification of children affected by AE. The current study aimed to build on our preliminary neurobehavioral profile in order to improve classification accuracy and test the specificity of the resulting profile in an alternate clinical group.
A standardized neuropsychological test battery was administered to three groups of children: subjects with AE (n = 209), typically developing controls (CON, n = 185), and subjects with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD, n = 74). We assessed a large sample from six sites in the U.S. and South Africa, using standardized methodology. Data were analyzed using three latent profile analyses (LPA) including: (1) subjects with FAS and controls, (2) subjects with AE without FAS and controls, (3) subjects with AE (with or without FAS) and subjects with ADHD.
Classification accuracy was moderate but significant across the three analyses. In analysis 1, overall classification accuracy was 76.1% (77.2% FAS, 75.7% CON). In the second analysis, overall classification accuracy was 71.5% (70.1% AE/Non-FAS, 72.4% CON). In the third analysis, overall classification accuracy was 73.9% (59.8% AE, 75.7% ADHD). Subjects that were misclassified were examined for systematic differences from those that were correctly classified.
The results of this study indicate that the neuropsychological effects of AE are clinically meaningful and can be used to accurately distinguish alcohol-affected children from both typically developing children and children with ADHD. Further, in combination with other recent studies, these data suggest that approximately 70% of children with heavy prenatal alcohol exposure are neurobehaviorally affected while the remaining 30% are spared these often-devastating consequences, at least those in the domains under study. Refining the neurobehavioral profile will allow improved identification and treatment development for children affected by prenatal alcohol exposure.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS); Prenatal Alcohol Exposure; Neurobehavioral Profile; Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD); Latent Profile Analysis (LPA)
The present study examined prevalence of psychiatric disorders and behavioral problems in children with and without prenatal alcohol exposure (AE) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Primary caregivers of 344 children (8–16y, M=12.28) completed the Computerized Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children-IV (C-DISC-4.0) and the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). Subjects comprised 4 groups: AE with ADHD (AE+, n=85) and without ADHD (AE−, n=52), and non-exposed with ADHD (ADHD, n=74) and without ADHD (CON, n=133). The frequency of specific psychiatric disorders, number of psychiatric disorders (comorbidity), and CBCL behavioral scores were examined using chi-square and ANCOVA techniques.
Clinical groups had greater frequency of all psychiatric disorders, except for anxiety, where the AE− and CON groups did not differ. There was a synergistic effect of AE and ADHD on conduct disorder. For Comorbidity, children with ADHD had increased psychiatric disorders regardless of AE, which did not have an independent effect on comorbidity. For CBCL scores, there were significant main effects of AE and ADHD on all scores and significant AE X ADHD interactions for Withdrawn/Depressed, Somatic Complaints, Attention, and all Summary scores. There was a synergistic effect of AE and ADHD on Externalizing, Total Problems, and Attention Problems.
Findings indicate that ADHD diagnosis elevates children’s risk of psychiatric diagnoses, regardless of AE, but suggest a synergistic relation between AE and ADHD on conduct disorder and externalizing behavioral problems in children. Findings affirm a poorer behavioral prognosis for alcohol-exposed children with ADHD and suggest that more than one neurobehavioral profile may exist for individuals with AE.
Psychiatric disorders; psychopathology; fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS); fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD); attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Sex differences in age- and puberty-related maturation of human brain structure have been observed in typically developing age-matched boys and girls. Because girls mature 1–2 years earlier than boys, the present study aimed at assessing sex differences in brain structure by studying 80 adolescent boys and girls matched on sexual maturity, rather than age. We evaluated pubertal influences on medial temporal lobe (MTL), thalamic, caudate, and cortical gray matter volumes utilizing structural magnetic resonance imaging and 2 measures of pubertal status: physical sexual maturity and circulating testosterone. As predicted, significant interactions between sex and the effect of puberty were observed in regions with high sex steroid hormone receptor densities; sex differences in the right hippocampus, bilateral amygdala, and cortical gray matter were greater in more sexually mature adolescents. Within sex, we found larger volumes in MTL structures in more sexually mature boys, whereas smaller volumes were observed in more sexually mature girls. Our results demonstrate puberty-related maturation of the hippocampus, amygdala, and cortical gray matter that is not confounded by age, and is different for girls and boys, which may contribute to differences in social and cognitive development during adolescence, and lasting sexual dimorphisms in the adult brain.
A fundamental tenet in the field of developmental neuroscience is that brain maturation generally proceeds from posterior/inferior to anterior/superior. This pattern is thought to underlie the similar timing of cognitive development in related domains, with the dorsal frontal cortices – important for decision making and cognitive control – the last to fully mature. While this caudal to rostral wave of structural development was first qualitatively described for white matter in classical postmortem studies, and has been discussed frequently in the developmental neuroimaging literature and in the popular press, it has never been formally demonstrated continuously and quantitatively across the whole brain with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Here we use diffusion imaging to map developmental changes in the white matter in 32 typically-developing individuals age 5-28 years. We then employ a novel meta-statistic that is sensitive to the timing of this developmental trajectory, and use this integrated strategy to both confirm these long-postulated broad regional gradients in the timing of white matter maturation in vivo, and demonstrate a surprisingly smooth transition in the timing of white matter maturational peaks along a caudal-rostral arc in this cross-sectional sample. These results provide further support for the notion of continued plasticity in these regions well into adulthood, and may provide a new approach for the investigation of neurodevelopmental disorders that could alter the timing of this typical developmental sequence.
White matter; myelin; diffusion; DTI; development; gradient
Children with heavy prenatal alcohol exposure often meet criteria for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD research has examined subtype differences in symptomology, including sluggish cognitive tempo (SCT). This construct is defined by behavioral symptoms including, hypoactivity and daydreaming, and has been linked to increased internalizing behaviors. The current study examined if similar findings are displayed in children with prenatal alcohol exposure.
As part of a multisite study, caregivers of 272 children (8–16y) completed the SCT scale and Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). Four groups were included: alcohol-exposed children with ADHD (ALC+; n=75), alcohol-exposed children without ADHD (ALC−; n=35), non-exposed children with ADHD (ADHD; n=60), and non-exposed children without ADHD (CON; n=102). SCT and CBCL scores were analyzed using 2 (exposure) × 2 (ADHD) ANOVAs. Pearson correlations measured the relations between SCT, CBCL, and FSIQ. Discriminant function analysis (DFA) examined if SCT items could accurately classify groups.
Analyses revealed significant main effects of Exposure and ADHD on SCT, internalizing, and externalizing scores, and significant interaction effects on SCT and internalizing scores. SCT significantly correlated with internalizing, externalizing, and attention ratings in all groups and with FSIQ in ALC+. DFA indicated that specific SCT items could distinguish ALC− from CON.
Alcohol-exposed children exhibited elevated SCT scores. Elevations were related to increased parent ratings of internalizing and externalizing behaviors and attention. These findings occurred in alcohol-exposed children regardless of ADHD symptoms and specific SCT items proved useful in distinguishing exposed children suggesting clinical utility for this measure in further defining the neurobehavioral profile related to prenatal alcohol exposure.
fetal alcohol spectrum disorder; fetal alcohol syndrome; attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder; sluggish cognitive tempo; neurobehavioral profile
Dynamic changes in brain structure, activation, and cognitive abilities co-occur during development, but little is known about how changes in brain structure relate to changes in cognitive function or brain activity. By using cortical pattern matching techniques to correlate cortical gray matter thickness and functional brain activity over the entire brain surface in 24 typically developing children, we integrated structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging data with cognitive test scores to identify correlates of mature performance during orthographic processing. Fast-naming individuals activated the right fronto-parietal attention network in response to novel fonts more than slow-naming individuals, and increased activation of this network was correlated with more mature brain morphology in the same fronto-parietal region. These relationships remained even after effects of age or general cognitive ability were statistically controlled. These results localized cortical regions where mature morphology corresponds to mature patterns of activation, and may suggest a role for experience in mediating brain structure–activation relationships.
attention; fMRI; imaging; language; morphometry
Here we investigate the effects of prenatal exposure to methamphetamine (MA) on local brain volume using magnetic resonance imaging. Because many who use MA during pregnancy also use alcohol, a known teratogen, we examined whether local brain volumes differed among 61 children (ages 5 to 15), 21 with prenatal MA exposure, 18 with concomitant prenatal alcohol exposure (the MAA group), 13 with heavy prenatal alcohol but not MA exposure (ALC group), and 27 unexposed controls (CON group). Volume reductions were observed in both exposure groups relative to controls in striatal and thalamic regions bilaterally, and right prefrontal and left occipitoparietal cortices. Striatal volume reductions were more severe in the MAA group than in the ALC group, and within the MAA group, a negative correlation between full-scale IQ (FSIQ) scores and caudate volume was observed. Limbic structures including the anterior and posterior cingulate, the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and ventral and lateral temporal lobes bilaterally were increased in volume in both exposure groups. Further, cingulate and right IFG volume increases were more pronounced in the MAA than ALC group. Discriminant function analyses using local volume measurements and FSIQ were used to predict group membership, yielding factor scores that correctly classified 72% of participants in jackknife analyses. These findings suggest that striatal and limbic structures, known to be sites of neurotoxicity in adult MA abusers, may be more vulnerable to prenatal MA exposure than alcohol exposure, and that more severe striatal damage is associated with more severe cognitive deficit.
Teratogen; cognitive; development; imaging; neurobehavioral; Methamphetamine
Efforts to understand specific effects of prenatal methamphetamine exposure on cognitive processing are hampered by high rates of concomitant alcohol use during pregnancy. We examined whether neurocognitive systems differed among children with differing prenatal teratogenic exposures when they engaged in a verbal memory task.
Patients and Methods
Participants (7-15 years old) engaged in a verbal paired associate learning task while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. The MA group included 14 children with prenatal methamphetamine exposure, 12 of whom had concomitant alcohol exposure. They were compared to 9 children with prenatal alcohol but not methamphetamine exposure (ALC) and 20 unexposed controls (CON). Groups did not differ in age, gender, or socioeconomic status. Participants’ IQ and verbal learning performance were measured using standardized instruments.
The MA group activated more diffuse brain regions, including bilateral medial temporal structures known to be important for memory, than both the ALC and the CON groups. These group differences remained after IQ was covaried. More activation in medial temporal structures by the MA group compared to the ALC group cannot be explained by performance differences because both groups performed at similar levels on the verbal memory task.
More diffuse activation in the MA group during verbal memory may reflect recruitment of compensatory systems to support a weak verbal memory network. Differences in activation patterns between the MA and ALC groups suggest that prenatal MA exposure influences the development of the verbal memory system above and beyond effects of prenatal alcohol exposure.
Teratogen; cognitive; development; imaging; neurobehavioral
Purpose of Study
Prenatal exposure to alcohol often results in disruption to discrete cognitive and behavioral domains, including executive function (EF) and adaptive functioning. In the current study, the relation between these two domains was examined in children with histories of heavy prenatal alcohol exposure, non-exposed children with a diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and typically developing controls.
As part of a multisite study, three groups of children (8-18y, M = 12.10) were tested: children with histories of heavy prenatal alcohol exposure (ALC, N=142), non-exposed children with ADHD (ADHD, N=82), and typically developing controls (CON, N=133) who did not have ADHD or a history of prenatal alcohol exposure. Children completed subtests of the Delis-Kaplan Executive Function System (D-KEFS) and their primary caregivers completed the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales-II (VABS). Data were analyzed using regression analyses.
Analyses showed that EF measures were predictive of adaptive abilities and significant interactions between D-KEFS measures and group were present. For the ADHD group, the relation between adaptive abilities and EF was more general, with three of the four EF measures showing a significant relation with adaptive score. In contrast, for the ALC group, this relation was specific to the nonverbal EF measures. In the CON group, performance on EF tasks did not predict adaptive scores over the influence of age.
These results support prior research in ADHD suggesting that EF deficits are predictive of poorer adaptive behavior and extend this finding to include children with heavy prenatal exposure to alcohol. However, the relation between EF and adaptive ability differed by group, suggesting unique patterns of abilities in these children. These results provide enhanced understanding of adaptive deficits in these populations, as well as demonstrate the ecological validity of laboratory measures of executive function.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD); fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS); ADHD; adaptive function; executive functioning; multi-site study; neurobehavioral profile
Quantitative magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies in children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) have shown regional patterns of dysmorphology, most prominent in parietal and posterior temporal cortices. Various methods of image analysis have been employed in these studies, but abnormalities in cortical thickness have not yet been mapped over the entire cortical surface in individuals with FASD. Further, relationships between cognitive dysfunction and cortical thickness measures have not yet been explored. We applied cortical pattern matching algorithms and techniques for measuring cortical thickness in millimeters to the structural brain MRI images of 21 subjects with heavy prenatal alcohol exposure (8–22 years, mean age 12.6 years), and 21 normally developing control subjects (8–25 years, mean age 13.5 years). Dissociable cognitive measures, of verbal recall and visuospatial functioning, were correlated with cortical thickness, and group by test score interactions were evaluated for predicting cortical thickness. Significant cortical thickness excesses of up to 1.2 mm were observed in the FASD subjects in large areas of bilateral temporal, bilateral inferior parietal, and right frontal regions. Significant group by test score interactions were found in right dorsal frontal regions for the verbal recall measure and in left occipital regions for the visuospatial measure. These results are consistent with earlier analyses from our own and other research groups, but for the first time, we show that cortical thickness is also increased in right lateral frontal regions in children with prenatal alcohol exposure. Further, the significant interactions show for the first time that brain-behavior relationships are altered as a function of heavy prenatal alcohol exposure.
FAS; frontal lobe; prenatal alcohol exposure; verbal learning; visuospatial
Development of working memory (WM) aptitude parallels structural changes in the frontal-parietal association cortices important for performance within this cognitive domain. The cerebellum has been proposed to function in support of the postulated phonological loop component of verbal WM, and along with frontal and parietal cortices, has been shown to exhibit linear WM load-dependent activation in adults. It is not known if these kinds of WM load-dependent relationships exist for cerebro-cerebellar networks in developmental populations, and whether there are age-related changes in the nature of load-dependency between childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. The present study used fMRI and a verbal Sternberg WM task with three load levels to investigate developmental changes in WM load-dependent cerebro-cerebellar activation in a sample of 30 children, adolescents, and young adults between the ages of 7 and 28. The neural substrates of linear load-dependency were found to change with age. Among adolescents and adults, frontal, parietal and cerebellar regions showed linear load-dependency, or increasing activation under conditions of increasing WM load. In contrast, children recruited only left ventral prefrontal cortex in response to increasing WM load. These results demonstrate that, while children, adolescents, and young adults activate similar cerebro-cerebellar verbal working memory networks, the extent to which they rely on parietal and cerebellar regions in response to increasing task difficulty changes significantly between childhood and adolescence.