Comparison of spatial working memory in children with prenatal alcohol exposure and those diagnosed with ADHD; A functional magnetic resonance imaging study

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Abstract

BACKGROUND: Alcohol related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND) falls under the umbrella of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), but individuals do not demonstrate the facial characteristics associated with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), making diagnosis difficult. While attentional problems in ARND are similar to those found in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the underlying impairment in attention pathways may be different.<br /><br />METHODS: Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of a working memory (1-back) task of 63 children, 10 to 14 years old, diagnosed with ARND and ADHD, as well as typically developing (TD) controls, was conducted at 3 T. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) data were also acquired.<br /><br />RESULTS: Activations were observed in posterior parietal and occipital regions in the TD group and in dorsolateral prefrontal and posterior parietal regions in the ARND group, whereas the ADHD group activated only dorsolateral prefrontal regions, during the working memory component of the task (1-back minus 0-back contrast). The increases in frontal and parietal activity were significantly greater in the ARND group compared to the other groups. This increased activity was associated with reduced accuracy and increased response time variability, suggesting that ARND subjects exert greater effort to manage short-term memory load. Significantly greater intra-subject variability, demonstrated by fMRI region-of-interest analysis, in the ADHD and ARND groups compared to the TD group suggests that moment-to-moment lapses in attention contributed to their poorer task performance. Differences in functional activity in ARND subjects with and without a diagnosis of ADHD resulted primarily from reduced activation by the ARND/ADHD + group during the 0-back task. In contrast, children with ADHD alone clearly showed reduced activations during the 1-back task. DTI analysis revealed that the TD group had significantly higher total tract volume and number of fibers than the ARND group. These measures were negatively correlated with errors on the 1-back task, suggesting a link between white matter integrity and task performance.<br /><br />CONCLUSIONS: fMRI activations suggest that the similar behavior of children with ARND and ADHD on a spatial working memory task is the result of different cognitive events. The nature of ADHD in children with ARND appears to differ from that of children with ADHD alone.

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Malisza, K. L., Buss, J. L., Bruce Bolster, R., de Gervai, P. D., Woods-Frohlich, L., Summers, R., … Longstaffe, S. (2012). Comparison of spatial working memory in children with prenatal alcohol exposure and those diagnosed with ADHD; A functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders, 4(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/1866-1955-4-12

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