Structural and functional neuroimaging of individuals with prenatal exposure to addictive substances

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Santhanam, Priya
Hu, Xiaoping
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Although the hazards of prenatal exposure to addictive substances have been documented for decades, it continues to be a prevalent social and health concern today. Alcohol and cocaine are two commonly abused substances during pregnancy, often leading to behavioral and cognitive disorders in exposed children. At present, the relationship between teratogenic effects of prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) and prenatal cocaine exposure (PCE) on the brain and observed behavioral outcomes is still unclear. A primary reason for this incomplete understanding is the lack of information regarding neuronal functioning in these populations. Functional MRI, which measures real-time brain activation in response to certain stimuli, can be utilized to bridge the gap between known structural damage and observed behavioral outcomes. This thesis aims to examine structural and functional alterations in PAE and PCE populations as compared to unexposed, socio-economic status-matched populations. As the PAE population is highly affected by structural dysmorphology, the applicability of a newly developed diffeomorphic image registration method to this population is examined. Additionally, task-positive and task-negative functional connectivity and activity are investigated in the PAE population, and related to underlying structural alterations. Neural correlates of global arousal and emotional regulation are investigated in the PCE population, as these behavioral outcomes are most notable. Similarly, functional connectivity and activation in task-positive and task-negative networks, as well as correlated structural measures, are examined in the PCE population. The diffeomorphic image registration algorithm was found to improve both structural and functional image registration for the PAE population. In the examination of specific deficits in arithmetic processing, poorer performance in the PAE group was attributed to a multi-level effect produced by altered structural and functional connectivity and functional activity in calculation and default mode networks. Baseline arousal levels were found to be higher in adolescents with PCE as compared to healthy controls (by altered default mode network functioning); emotional regulation also appeared to be affected in the PCE group by a prefrontal-amygdala structural and functional disconnect. The findings of this thesis give insights into the relationship between task-positive and task-negative duality and cognitive impairment, and contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the spectrum of clinical disorders caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol and cocaine.
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