Diffusion MRI of the developing cerebral cortical gray matter can be used to detect abnormalities in tissue microstructure associated with fetal ethanol exposure

Lindsey A. Leigland, Matthew D. Budde, Anda Cornea, Christopher (Chris) Kroenke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

21 Scopus citations


Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) comprise a wide range of neurological deficits that result from fetal exposure to ethanol (EtOH), and are the leading cause of environmentally related birth defects and mental retardation in the western world. One aspect of diagnostic and therapeutic intervention strategies that could substantially improve our ability to combat this significant problem would be to facilitate earlier detection of the disorders within individuals. Light microscopy-based investigations performed by several laboratories have previously shown that morphological development of neurons within the early-developing cerebral cortex is abnormal within the brains of animals exposed to EtOH during fetal development. We and others have recently demonstrated that diffusion MRI can be of utility for detecting abnormal cellular morphological development in the developing cerebral cortex. We therefore assessed whether diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) could be used to distinguish the developing cerebral cortices of ex vivo rat pup brains born from dams treated with EtOH (EtOH; 4.5. g/kg, 25%) or calorie-matched quantities of maltose/dextrin (M/D) throughout gestation. Water diffusion and tissue microstructure were investigated using DTI (fractional anisotropy, FA) and histology (anisotropy index, AI), respectively. Both FA and AI decreased with age, and were higher in the EtOH than the M/D group at postnatal ages (P)0, P3, and P6. Additionally, there was a significant correlation between FA and AI measurements. These findings provide evidence that disruptions in cerebral cortical development induced by EtOH exposure can be revealed by water diffusion anisotropy patterns, and that these disruptions are directly related to cerebral cortical differentiation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1081-1087
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Neurology

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