Prenatal meth may affect developing brain

April 16, 2009 at 12:29 PM

MANOA, Hawaii, April 16 (UPI) -- Methamphetamine use during pregnancy appears to cause abnormal brain development in children, U.S. researchers said.

Study author Dr. Linda Chang of the University of Hawaii at Manoa and colleagues used brain scans on 29 3- and 4-year-old children whose mothers used methamphetamine while pregnant and 37 unexposed children of the same ages.

The MRI scans used diffusion tensor imaging to help measure the diffusion of molecules in a child's brain, which can indicate abnormal microscopic brain structures that might reflect abnormal brain development.

The study, published online in the journal Neurologyscans, showed that children with prenatal methamphetamine exposure had differences in the white matter structure and maturation of their brains compared to unexposed children. The children with prenatal methamphetamine exposure had up to 4 percent lower diffusion of molecules in the white matter of their brains.

"Our findings suggest prenatal meth exposure accelerates brain development in an abnormal pattern," Chang said in a statement. "Such abnormal brain development may explain why some children with prenatal meth exposure reach developmental milestones later than others."

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