APR 09, 2015 11:37 PM PDT

Functional Brain Organization of Newborns Altered By Prenatal Cocaine Exposure

A new study by UNC researchers, based on MRI brain scans of 152 infants, found disruptions in functional connectivity within part of the amygdala-prefrontal network - a pathway thought to play an important role in arousal regulation.
A baby's brain function can be altered by prenatal drug use.
"To our knowledge, this study is the first to show that maternal drug use during pregnancy alters the brain's functional organization in newborns," said Wei Gao, Ph.D., assistant professor of radiology at the Biomedical Research Imaging Center (BRIC) in the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and one of the two corresponding authors of the study, published in the April 8, 2015 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

"This study may inform new strategies aimed at early risk identification and intervention," said Karen M. Grewen, Ph.D., the study's other corresponding author and associate professor of psychiatry, neurobiology and psychology.

In the study, 152 infants were given resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (rsfMRI) scans. Of these, 45 had prenatal exposure to cocaine, 43 had prenatal exposure to drugs other than cocaine, and 64 had no known prenatal drug exposure.

Alterations in the brain's functional organization were found in both groups that had prenatal drug exposure. The group with prenatal cocaine exposure had additional alterations that the other drug control group did not have. A reduced anti-correlation between the amygdala and part of the prefrontal cortex was found to be specifically associated with prenatal cocaine exposure, which may indicate a potential failure, or risk for failure, in the suppression of amygdala responses from the higher-order prefrontal cortex. The disruption of this functional circuit may potentially underlie the arousal dysregulation trait frequently observed for infants with prenatal cocaine exposure. Overall, this study revealed that rsfMRI in infants may play a pivotal role in the search for objective biomarkers for the identification of risks and guidance of early intervention to improve later behavioral outcomes.

Source: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
About the Author
  • Ilene Schneider is the owner of Schneider the Writer, a firm that provides communications for health care, high technology and service enterprises. Her specialties include public relations, media relations, advertising, journalistic writing, editing, grant writing and corporate creativity consulting services. Prior to starting her own business in 1985, Ilene was editor of the Cleveland edition of TV Guide, associate editor of School Product News (Penton Publishing) and senior public relations representative at Beckman Instruments, Inc. She was profiled in a book, How to Open and Operate a Home-Based Writing Business and listed in Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in Advertising and Who's Who in Media and Communications. She was the recipient of the Women in Communications, Inc. Clarion Award in advertising. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Ilene and her family have lived in Irvine, California, since 1978.
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