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Fetal Exposure to Cortisol-Like Drugs Tied to Brain Development Complications

Update Date: Oct 31, 2013 02:55 PM EDT
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During pregnancy, anything a woman intakes, whether it is food or drugs, might have an effect on fetal development. Even though certain things have been deemed safe to eat, everyday, researchers find new potential threats. In a new study, researchers examined the effects of cortisol-like drugs called glucocorticoids and found that prenatal exposure to these drugs might be tied to brain development.

For this study, the researchers headed by Dr. Elysia Davis from the University of Denver were interested in the effects of glucocorticoids, which are usually given to women who go through preterm labor. The drugs work by encouraging infant's lung growth before it is born. The team looked at 54 children who were all born full-term and healthy. The children, who were between the ages of six and 10, underwent brain-imaging scans. Their parents were asked to fill out a behavioral assessment form on their children. The researchers then compared children who were exposed to glucocorticoids to children who were not.

The researchers found that the exposed group of children had significant cortical thinning. Cortical thinning has been tied to emotional problems. The team also found that these children had an eight to nine percent thinner rostral anterior cingulate cortex. This region is believed to be associated with mood and anxiety issues. The team noted that the groups did not differ in weight, apgar scores, maternal fathers and other demographic statistics.

"Fetal exposure to a frequently administered stress hormone is associated with consequences for child brain development that persist for at least 6 to 10 years. These neurological changes are associated with increased risk for stress and emotional problems," Davis explained according to Medical Xpress. "Importantly, these findings were observed among healthy children born full term."

She added, "This study provides evidence that prenatal exposure to stress hormones shapes the construction of the fetal nervous system with consequences for the developing brain that persist into the preadolescent period."

The study was published in Biological Psychiatry

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