Lasting impact from alcohol exposure in utero

VANDERBILT (US) — Even low levels of prenatal alcohol exposure impact brain development and the effects persist into adulthood, new research suggests.

Heavy exposure to alcohol during prenatal development frequently leads to fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), with characteristic symptoms of growth deficiencies, cognitive dysfunction, and facial abnormalities.


Reductions in overall brain volume—and in specific brain regions— are a common finding among children exposed to high levels of alcohol during development. But the effects of low-to-moderate exposure are less clear.

Malcolm Avison, professor of radiology and radiological sciences at Vanderbilt University, Kristen Eckstrand, and their colleagues have examined the effects of low-to-moderate prenatal alcohol exposure on the brains of young adults.

The study population was prospectively identified and followed from birth to 19 years of age. In Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, they report that young adults exposed to even relatively small amounts of alcohol in the womb showed dose-dependent gray matter reductions in several brain areas implicated in behavioral consequences of prenatal alcohol exposure.

The research was supported by grants from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the National Center for Research Resources/National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health, and the Joseph R. Young, Sr., Fund.

Source: Vanderbilt University