In utero MRI identifies consequences of early-gestation alcohol drinking on fetal brain development in rhesus macaques

Xiaojie Wang, Verginia C.Cuzon Carlson, Colin Studholme, Natali Newman, Matthew M. Ford, Kathleen A. Grant, Christopher D. Kroenke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


One factor that contributes to the high prevalence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is binge-like consumption of alcohol before pregnancy awareness. It is known that treatments are more effective with early recognition of FASD. Recent advances in retrospective motion correction for the reconstruction of three-dimensional (3D) fetal brain MRI have led to significant improvements in the quality and resolution of anatomical and diffusion MRI of the fetal brain. Here, a rhesus macaque model of FASD, involving oral selfadministration of 1.5 g/kg ethanol per day beginning prior to pregnancy and extending through the first 60 d of a 168-d gestational term, was utilized to determinewhether fetalMRI could detect alcohol-induced abnormalities in brain development. This approach revealed differences between ethanol-exposed and control fetuses at gestation day 135 (G135), but not G110 or G85. At G135, ethanolexposed fetuses had reduced brainstem and cerebellum volume and water diffusion anisotropy in several white matter tracts, compared to controls. Ex vivo electrophysiological recordings performed on fetal brain tissue obtained immediately following MRI demonstrated that the structural abnormalities observed at G135 are of functional significance. Specifically, spontaneous excitatory postsynaptic current amplitudes measured from individual neurons in the primary somatosensory cortex and putamen strongly correlated with diffusion anisotropy in the white matter tracts that connect these structures. These findings demonstrate that exposure to ethanol early in gestation perturbs development of brain regions associated with motor control in a manner that is detectable with fetal MRI.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10035-10044
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number18
StatePublished - May 5 2020


  • Cerebellum
  • Diffusion MRI
  • FASD
  • Nonhuman primate
  • White matter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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