April 2012

Document Type


Degree Name



Dept. of Behavioral Neuroscience.


Oregon Health & Science University


Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and the more broad distinction of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) are defined by a set of conditions resulting from consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. Maternal ethanol consumption has a variety of effects ranging from altered gene expression (Kaminen-Ahola 2010) to behavioral consequences spanning the lifetime of the offspring (Mihalick 2001, Baer 2003, Arias 2006, Chotro 2007, Youngentob 2007, Chotro 2009). These disorders cause significant mental, physical and financial stress to the individuals and families affected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that the prevalence of FAS is 0.2 – 1.5 per 1000 live births (with FASDs occurring up to 3 times as often as FAS) making these disorders a significant public health concern (CDC 1993, CDC 1995, CDC 1997, CDC 2002). Currently, detection of indicators of FAS and FASD required for diagnosis (facial dysmorphology, growth deficits and central nervous system impairments; is most easily accomplished years after birth. Studies have reported that the average age of diagnosis of FAS and FASD ranges from 3 to 10 years of age (Streissguth 2004, Eliott 2008). Early diagnosis is extremely important, as this allows for therapeutic intervention at critical time points, potentially reducing the severity of adverse outcomes of these disorders (Streissguth 2004, Olson 2007). However, diagnosis of FASD has been difficult due to the range of associated symptoms, the overlap of symptoms with other developmental disorders, as well as difficulties detecting indicators of FASD in vivo early in development. While much of the research surrounding FASD is dedicated to discovering improved biomarkers and early detection of biomarkers, diagnosis at early time points in the progression of these disorders is still imperfect. The research presented here suggests new techniques that may help in early diagnosis of FASD. This research centers on the development of the cerebral cortex, as the period of time, in which neural circuits form, is critical for future behavioral development, and is significantly impacted by prenatal exposure to alcohol.




School of Medicine



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