Visual attention problems have been reported in association with prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE). With related behavioral data documented in literature, further investigation of this PAE effect would benefit from integrating functional and anatomical imaging data to ascertain its neurobiological basis. The current study investigated the possible functional and anatomical bases for the PAE-related visual sustained attention deficit. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data were collected while the subjects performed a sustained visual attention task. High resolution, three dimensional anatomical images were also collected for morphometric evaluation. In the alcohol-affected subjects, we observed a significant white and gray matter volume reduction in the occipital-temporal area. Meanwhile, their fMRI activations in the same region resided more superiorly than that of the controls resulting in reduced activation in the ventral occipital-temporal area. The location of this PAE functional abnormality approximately matches that of the significant structural reduction. In addition to the well documented corpus callosum abnormalities observed in PAE subjects, the present results reveal a teratogenic effect on the occipital-temporal area. Furthermore, as the occipital-temporal area plays an important role in visual attention, the current observation suggests a neurobiological underpinning for the PAE related deficit in sustained visual attention.
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