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Treating Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

The effects of fetal alcohol exposure may be more profound than researchers hoped. Results of a new study reveal the prenatal damage to peptides in the fetal brain may endure into adulthood despite environmental enrichment provided in a child’s early years.

Neurotrophins — a family of peptides produced in the nervous system — are critical for normal development of the brain. Research has shown prenatal alcohol exposure may be particularly destructive for neurotrophins, with effects lasting into adulthood.

“Neurotrophins also play important roles in learning and memory, and contribute to the repair of the brain following injury or stress,” study author Robert F. Berman, Ph.D., a professor in the department of neurological surgery at the University of California — Davis, was quoted as saying.

Dr. Berman said treatment of other types of brain injury with environmental enrichment therapy could be beneficial. However, new research in rats suggests the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure and environmental rearing conditions on neurotrophin levels are largely independent.

“In this study, we found that being raised in an enriched environment, with ample opportunities for motor and sensory stimulation, and social interactions, unexpectedly resulted in reduced levels of neurotrophins in some areas of the cortex, but not in other areas which are well known to be affected by prenatal alcohol exposure,” Dr. Berman said.

He went on to say additional research is needed to devise better treatment strategies for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.
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SOURCE: To be published in the October 2008 edition of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

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