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Module 2: Effects of Alcohol on the Fetus

Brain Anatomy

Please review each brain structure to learn more about how alcohol affects the brain.

Brain Anatomy Corpus CallosumFrontal LobesCerebellumHippocampusBasal Ganglia

To learn more about brain anatomy and function, you can take a 3-D tour of the brain online at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/brain/3d/index.html.  Exit Disclaimer Graphic

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 of the corpus callosum. These abnormalities have been linked to deficits in attention, intellectual function, reading, learning, verbal memory, executive function, and psychosocial functioning.7

Corpus Callosum

A. Magnetic resonance imaging showing the side view of a 14-year-old control subject with a normal corpus callosum; B. 12-year-old with FAS and a thin corpus callosum; C. 14-year-old with FAS and agenesis (absence due to abnormal development) of the corpus callosum.

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.

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Hippocampus
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.7


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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 and the ability to inhibit inappropriate behavior.7

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Cerebellum
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.7

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Frontal Lobes
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 teenagers and young adults 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.7-9

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