Neural correlates of verbal memory in youth with heavy prenatal alcohol exposure


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Prenatal alcohol exposure can impact both brain development and neurobehavioral function, including verbal learning and recall, although the relation between verbal recall and brain structure in this population has not been examined fully. We aimed to determine the structural neural correlates of verbal learning and recall in youth with histories of heavy prenatal alcohol exposure using a region of interest (ROI) approach. As part of an ongoing multisite project, subjects (age 10–16 years) with prenatal alcohol exposure (AE, n = 81) and controls (CON, n = 81) were tested using the CVLT-C and measures of cortical volume, surface area, and thickness as well as hippocampal volume were derived from MRI. Group differences in brain and memory indices were tested with ANOVA. Multiple regression analyses tested whether brain ROIs significantly predicted memory performance. The AE group had lower scores than the CON group on all CVLT-C variables (ps ≤ .001) and volume and surface area (ps < .025), although results varied by ROI. No group differences in cortical thickness were found. The relations between cortical structure and memory performance differed between group among some ROIs, particularly those in the frontal cortex, generally with smaller surface area and/or thinner cortex predicting better performance in CON but worse performance in AE. Cortical surface area appears to be the most sensitive index to the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure, while cortical thickness appears to be the least sensitive. These findings also indicate that the neural correlates of verbal memory are altered in youth with heavy prenatal alcohol exposure compared to controls.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)806-822
Number of pages17
JournalBrain Imaging and Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018

Bibliographical note

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© 2017, Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.


  • Brain
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD)
  • Memory
  • Neurobehavioral profile
  • Prenatal alcohol exposure


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