An international team of researchers takes a major step in finding biological changes in the brain driving fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). New work that uses chaos theory in analyzing brain signals shows the long-term effects. Researchers discovered a connection between infant brain damage and alcoholism.
Researchers discovered that teenagers who had been exposed to alcohol while still inside the womb had signs of an altered brain connection which was consistent with impaired cognitive performance. The findings were based on measuring responses from a brain imaging technique known as magnetoencephalography (MEG). Researchers then analyzed the responses using tools designed using chaos theory.
FASD is among the leading causes of intellectual disability in the world. It is also linked to a wide range of neurological issues that include ADHD. The theory links alcohol consumption of expectant mothers to cognitive impairment in children. However, questions exist about the extent of this effect. Researchers are still uncertain about the particular mechanism by which alcohol affects developing brains.
The team’s efforts mark one of the first times scientists were able to quantify alcohol exposure effects on the developing brain.
Julia Stephen’s opinions
Julia Stephen said that the findings provided integrative results on the field of FASD. She said that the results could be an indication that simple sensory measures could provide sensitivity for brain deficits which normally affect broader cognitive domain.
Earlier attempts of studying the brain’s circuitry in affected individuals were hampered by difficulties in drawing conclusions arising from the complicated MEG data.
To understand the root of that problem, the team came up with a computer technique known as Cortical Start Spatio-Temporal multidipole analysis. The technique could be used to identify the active brain areas once research subjects got into the MEG machine.
Data from 21 subjects who did not have FASD and 19 patients with FASD was collected. It was revealed that several brain areas were showing impaired connectivity among the FASD group.
The subjects who had been exposed to alcohol while still in the womb had a higher chance of having connection issues through the corpus callosum. This is the band of brain tissue which connects the right and the left sides of the brain. Deficits in this area have been found in people with:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Abnormalities in sensation
Lin Gao said that the researchers’ work presented major evidence that children who had been exposed to alcohol before birth were at a risk of acquiring impaired cognitive abilities plus other secondary factors.
There is no safe stage to consume alcohol or a safe amount of alcohol to consume during pregnancy. It is the authors’ hope that their work will inspire other researchers to perform similar research on diseases such as FASD.
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- Science Daily. (2019, 04 26). Retrieved 05 04, 2019, from www.sciencedaily.com: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190426150639.htm