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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Radiologists observed significant changes in the brain structure of fetuses exposed to alcohol in the first MRI-based study to investigate the issue.

“We know that about 9.8% of women are consuming alcohol during pregnancy. In this fetal MRI study, we tried to use fetal brain imaging to identify early changes of the fetal brain in fetuses exposed to alcohol prenatally,” Dr. Gregor Kasprian of the Medical University of Vienna, in Austria, said in podcast from the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, where the findings were presented.

The results are based on fetal MRI scans from 24 women who drank alcohol during pregnancy and 52 who did not. At the time of MRI imaging, fetuses ranged in age between 20 and 37 weeks. The researchers analyzed 12 different brain structures, 10 mg risperidone computing total brain volume and segment volumes of different brain compartments.

“One of the main hallmarks of our study is that we investigated so many smaller sub-compartments of the brain,” co-investigator Dr. Marlene Stuempflen, scientific researcher at the Medical University of Vienna, said in a news release.

“Despite the relatively minor prenatal alcohol exposure of 1 to 3 standard drinks per week, we detected a selective vulnerability of the fetal brain to alcohol,” Dr. Stuempflen said in the podcast.

“The corpus callosum showed significantly larger volumes whereas the periventricular zone showed smaller volumes compared to the controls. Thus, this study systematically documents the selected effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on regional brain volumes at prenatal stages,” Dr. Stuempflen added.

“These findings indicate an alcohol-associated altered trajectory of fetal neurodevelopment,” she said.

The study had no specific funding and the authors have no relevant disclosures.

SOURCE: Radiological Society of North America annual meeting, November 28 to December 2, 2021.

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