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

by Gross, Lauren Alline, M.A., SAN DIEGO STATE UNIVERSITY, 2016, 98 pages; 10129138


Penatal alcohol exposure can have devastating effects, including impaired verbal learning and recall and altered brain development. The relationships between verbal recall and critical brain structures differ between individuals with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) and controls. The objective of this study was to determine the structural neural correlates of verbal learning and recall in youth with histories of heavy prenatal alcohol exposure and compare them to those of typically developing peers based on specific regions of interest (ROIs).

Data for the study were collected as part of an ongoing multisite project. Subjects (age 10-16 years) comprised two groups: those with heavy prenatal alcohol exposure (AE, n= 81) and nonexposed controls (CON, n= 81). Each subject was administered the CVLT-C and an anatomical MRI scan. Groups were compared on CVLT-C variables, cortical surface area, volume, and thickness, and subcortical volume. Multiple regression analyses were used to determine if brain ROIs could significantly predict performance on CVLT-C variables. AE had lower scores compared to CON on all but one CVLT-C variable (ps≤.001). AE had reduced volume in the bilateral lateral temporal lobe and hippocampi (ps≤.009). There were no group differences in cortical thickness for any lobe. AE had smaller cortical surface area in the right frontal lobe and the bilateral medial and lateral temporal lobes (ps≤.007). Total Learning was predicted by the bilateral pars opercularis. Short Delay Free Recall was predicted by the left temporal pole, the left pars opercularis, and the right entorhinal cortex. Recognition-Discriminability was significantly predicted by the right rostral middle frontal gyrus and the inferior temporal gyrus.

The current study suggests that cortical surface area appears to be the most sensitive 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 nonexposed controls.

AdviserSarah Matson
Source TypeThesis
SubjectsNeurosciences; Behavioral psychology; Cognitive psychology
Publication Number10129138

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