Brain Maturation in Adults with FASD

Principal Investigator: Sandra Radin, Ph.D. (University of Washington, Seattle, Washington)

Consultant: Therese Grant, Ph.D. (University of Washington, Seattle, Washington)

Funded by NIH/NIAAA

2018 through 2023

Exposure to alcohol in utero can have devastating effects on the developing fetus, including   alterations in brain structure and functioning. Collectively the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) are referred to as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). Very little data exist on long-term consequences of PAE as the majority of clinical research has focused on children and adolescents, despite animal model data suggesting long-term consequences and altered trajectories of behavioral development. The goal of this study is to address this significant shortfall in our knowledge by evaluating the protracted effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on the brain.

Previous large studies from Seattle, Washington developed well-characterized research samples of individuals with a classification of having an FASD. Over 150 of these individuals had structural MRI scans conducted while in their teens and twenties, and are now between 30 and 60 years of age. In this current study we are recruiting a subset of these past subjects, as well as matched controls, (total N=90) to undergo another MRI session in which structural, DTI, and connectivity assessments will be conducted. Comparisons between these and the earlier scans will provide insight into the changes in overall brain structure, white matter integrity, and function with age in subjects with alcohol exposure histories.

We postulate that brain maturation following PAE follows an altered trajectory relative to normal developing controls. This work will begin to examine a major gap in our knowledge about the impact of PAE by addressing for the first time the longitudinal changes in brain during the adult period, and identify gaps in knowledge regarding FASD in adulthood.