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Magnetic Resonance Imaging of Brain Development in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Open Access


Other title
cortical thickness
fetal alcohol spectrum disorders
brain development
longitudinal MRI
magnetic resonance imaging
diffusion tensor imaging
cognitive development
prenatal alcohol exposure
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Treit, Sarah C
Supervisor and department
Carmen Rasmussen (Pediatrics)
Christian Beaulieu (Biomedical Engineering)
Examining committee member and department
Carmen Rasmussen (Pediatrics)
Sandra Wiebe (Psychology)
Jeffery Wozniak (Psychiatry, University of Minnesota)
Richard Camicioli (Neurology)
Christian Beaulieu (Biomedical Engineering)
Centre for Neuroscience

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Prenatal alcohol exposure has detrimental consequences on brain development, resulting in a wide range of physical, cognitive and behaviour deficits termed fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). Advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) methods have identified numerous abnormalities of brain structure in groups of individuals with FASD compared to groups of healthy typically developing controls, including volume reductions and abnormalities of cortical thickness and white matter microstructure. Although informative, many previous studies have included limited sample sizes or narrow age ranges, precluding investigation of age-related changes or sex-differences in neurological abnormalities in this population. Moreover, few studies have investigated abnormalities with more than one imaging method in the same sample, needed to determine the relative magnitude of observed impairments. This thesis aims to address these limitations by using advanced imaging methods (high resolution T1-weighted and diffusion tensor imaging) to examine white matter microstructure, cortical thickness and brain volumes in a large cross sectional and longitudinal follow up dataset of individuals diagnosed with FASD. Data presented here uncover novel information about the developmental trajectories of children and adolescents with FASD, demonstrating delayed development of both cortical thickness and white matter microstructure but expected changes in brain volume with age. Cross sectional analysis reveals robust reductions of brain volume, smaller but consistent reductions of cortical thickness and few differences in white matter microstructure between groups. Sex differences are identified in the control group, as expected given known sexual dimorphism of brain structure, but appear to be attenuated in the FASD group. Males with FASD are shown to have greater structural brain impairment than females, despite similar performance on cognitive tests. In addition, novel information on correlations between head circumference (a widely used diagnostic measure of neurological impairment in this population) and brain volume are presented, and implications for diagnosis are discussed. Overall this thesis provides independent evidence of altered brain structure in individuals with FASD, and uncovers novel information about sex differences, developmental trajectories, and brain-behaviour relationships that will help advance the development of medical and behavioural interventions for this population.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
Citation for previous publication
Treit, S., Lebel, C., Baugh, L., Rasmussen, C., Andrew, G., Beaulieu, C., 2013. Longitudinal MRI Reveals Altered Trajectory of Brain Development during Childhood and Adolescence in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Neuroscience 33, 10098-10109.Treit, S., Zhou, D., Lebel, C., Rasmussen, C., Andrew, G., Beaulieu, C., 2014b. Longitudinal MRI reveals impaired cortical thinning in children and adolescents prenatally exposed to alcohol. Hum Brain Mapping. 35(9):4892-903.

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