> Competency 1: Introduction to FASD > 8a. Specific Brain Function
Competency 1: Introduction to FASD
Effects of Alcohol on the Developing Brain, Continued
Effects of Alcohol on Specific Brain Function
Alcohol can affect specific parts of the brain in ways that impair several functions.33,34
- Corpus Callosum. The corpus callosum connects the two hemispheres
of the brain, allowing the left and right sides to communicate. Prenatal alcohol
exposure can cause abnormalities such as thinning or complete absence. These have
been linked to deficits in attention, intellectual function, reading, learning,
verbal memory, executive function, and psychosocial functioning.
Source: Mattson, S.N.; Jernigan, T.L.; and Riley, E.P. 1994. MRI
and prenatal alcohol exposure: Images provide insight into FAS. Alcohol Health &
Research World 18(1):49–52.
- Hippocampus. The hippocampus is involved in memory, but its precise
function is uncertain. Alcohol can change the fibers and cause cell reduction. Some
persons with prenatal alcohol exposure have deficits in spatial memory and other
memory functions associated with the hippocampus. The hippocampus also acts as a
mood control center. Damage to the hippocampus can affect the ability to respond
appropriately to emotions, such as anger. 34
- Basal Ganglia. The basal ganglia are nerve cell clusters involved
in motor abilities and cognitive functions. Heavy prenatal alcohol exposure can
reduce basal ganglia volume. This can affect skills related to perception, such
as the ability to manage time or inhibit inappropriate behavior.
- Cerebellum. The cerebellum is involved in both motor and cognitive
skills. The cerebellum tends to be smaller in people with an FASD. Damage to the
cerebellum can cause learning deficits and problems with motor skills, such as balance
and coordination. 34
- Frontal Lobes. The frontal lobes control executive functions, such
as planning and problem solving. They also control impulses and judgment. Frontal
lobes can be smaller in individuals prenatally exposed to alcohol. Persons with
an FASD may have poor impulse control and self-monitoring. They might engage in
risky or illegal activity to fit in with peers.