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Quantitative assessment of cerebral connectivity deficiency and cognitive impairment in children with prenatal alcohol exposure

Gao L, Grebogi C, Lai Y-C, Stephen J, Zhang T, Li Y, Ren H, Li D, Wang J, Schelter B, Sommerlade L (2019) Chaos  29, 041101 2019;  doi.org/10.1063/1.5089527 

Web URL: Read the abstract on aip.scitation.org here

Abstract:

It is common knowledge that alcohol consumption during pregnancy would cause cognitive impairment in children. However, recent works suggested that the risk of drinking during pregnancy may have been exaggerated. It is critical to determine whether and up to which amount the consumption of alcohol will affect the cognitive development of children.

We evaluate time-varying functional connectivity using magnetoencephalogram data from somatosensory evoked response experiments for 19 teenage subjects with prenatal alcohol exposure and 21 healthy control teenage subjects using a new time-varying connectivity approach, combining renormalised partial directed coherence with state space modeling. Children exposed to alcohol prenatally are at risk of developing a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) characterized by cerebral connectivity deficiency and impaired cognitive abilities.

Through a comparison study of teenage subjects exposed to alcohol prenatally with healthy control subjects, we establish that the inter-hemispheric connectivity is deficient for the former, which may lead to disruption in the cortical inter-hemispheric connectivity and deficits in higher order cognitive functions as measured by an IQ test, for example. We provide quantitative evidence that the disruption is correlated with cognitive deficits.

These findings could lead to a novel, highly sensitive biomarker for FASD and support a recommendation of no safe amount of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), characterised by impaired cognitive abilities, are a group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother has consumed alcohol during pregnancy. Surveys from the United States have found that about 10% of pregnant women have consumed alcohol in the last month and 20% to 30% at some point during the course of the pregnancy.

Although there is clear evidence that children exposed to alcohol prenatally are at risk of developing an FASD, some studies have argued that the risk of problems depends on the amount consumed, the frequency of consumption, or when during pregnancy the alcohol was consumed. Our study involving experimental data collected from teenage subjects, combined with mathematical modeling, shows that there is no safe amount or safe stages during pregnancy for alcohol consumption.

We employ a new time-varying connectivity approach to estimate the fast changing information flow among the brain sources using magnetoencephalogram data of somatosensory evoked response experiments from 19 teenage subjects with prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) and 21 healthy control (HC) teenage subjects. We demonstrate that the inter-hemispheric connectivity is deficient for subjects with prenatal alcohol exposure. A lack of the inter-hemispheric connectivity is known to facilitate autism, stroke, schizophrenia, as well as dementia, disrupts the cognitive performance, and may lead to neurobehavioral deficits.

We show that the disruption in the inter-hemispheric connectivity observed in this study is correlated with cognitive deficits associated with FASD, suggesting a potential new biomarker for FASD. Based on our findings, we support the recommendation of no safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy.

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