Background: Neurobehavioral consequences of heavy prenatal alcohol exposure are well documented; however, the role of age or sex in these effects has not been studied. The current study examined the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure, sex, and age on neurobehavioral functioning in children. Methods: Subjects were 407 youth with prenatal alcohol exposure (n = 192) and controls (n = 215). Two age groups (child [5 to 7 years] or adolescent [10 to 16 years]) and both sexes were included. All subjects completed standardized neuropsychological testing, and caregivers completed parent-report measures of psychopathology and adaptive behavior. Neuropsychological functioning, psychopathology, and adaptive behavior were analyzed with separate 2 (exposure history) × 2 (sex) × 2 (age) multivariate analyses of variance (MANOVAs). Significant effects were followed by univariate analyses. Results: No 3-way or 2-way interactions were significant. The main effect of group was significant in all 3 MANOVAs, with the control group performing better than the alcohol-exposed group on all measures. The main effect of age was significant for neuropsychological performance and adaptive functioning across exposure groups with younger children performing better than older children on 3 measures (language, communication, socialization). Older children performed better than younger children on a different language measure. The main effect of sex was significant for neuropsychological performance and psychopathology; across exposure groups, males had stronger language and visual spatial scores and fewer somatic complaints than females. Conclusions: Prenatal alcohol exposure resulted in impaired neuropsychological and behavioral functioning. Although adolescents with prenatal alcohol exposure may perform more poorly than younger exposed children, the same was true for nonexposed children. Thus, these cross-sectional data indicate that the developmental trajectory for neuropsychological and behavioral performance is not altered by prenatal alcohol exposure, but rather, deficits are consistent across the 2 age groups tested. Similarly, observed sex differences on specific measures were consistent across the groups and do not support sexually dimorphic effects in these domains.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Research described in this article was supported by NIAAA grant U01 AA014834 (SNM). Additional support was provided by NIAAA grants U24 AA014811 (EPR), U24 AA014815 (KLJ), and F31 AA022261 (LG). All or part of this work was carried out in conjunction with the Collaborative Initiative on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (CIFASD), which is funded by grants from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Additional information about CIFASD can be found at www.cifasd.org. The authors thank the families and children who graciously participate in our studies and to the members of the Center for Behavioral Teratology for ongoing assistance and support. We also acknowledge the efforts of Benjamin Deweese, Amy Flink, and Jill Vander Velde in San Diego; Trinh Luu and Alexy Andrade in Los Angeles; Sharron Paige-Whitaker in Atlanta; and Julia Tang and Birgit Fink in Minneapolis. The authors have no conflict of interest.
- Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
- Neuropsychological Function