Geometric morphometrics of corpus callosum and subcortical structures in the fetal-alcohol-affected brain

Varda Zaken, Ron Kohen, Asher Ornoy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

129 Scopus citations


Background: Although experienced clinicians have been diagnosing fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) for nearly 30 years, the rest of the spectrum of fetal alcohol damage is not being classified effectively. This article describes a quantification of neuroanatomical structure that may supply a useful discriminator of prenatal brain damage from alcohol. It is demonstrated in a data set of adults of both sexes. Methods: Ninety adults (45 males) were examined by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These subjects were group-matched for age and ethnicity across three diagnoses: FAS, fetal alcohol effects (FAE), and normals. All FAS and FAE were heavily alcohol-exposed in utero; normals were not. From T1-weighted MR brain images, we extracted 3D morphometric representations of shape for 33-landmark point configurations and 40-point outlines of the corpus callosum along its midline (a slightly nonplanar structure). Results: There are striking differences between exposed and unexposed in the statistical distributions of these two shapes. The differences are better characterized by excess variance in the exposed group than by any change in average landmark or outline shape. For each sex, combining the callosal outline data with the landmark data leads to a powerful quadratic discriminator of exposed from unexposed. The discriminating features include the relationship of brain stem to diencephalon, and localized variabilities of callosal outline shape, but not diagnosis (FAS vs. FAE). Conclusions: Statistical analysis of brain shape is a powerful new source of information relevant to fetal alcohol spectrum nosology and etiology. Patients with FAS and FAE do not differ in these brain shape features, but both differ from the unexposed. The aspects of brain shape that are especially variable may be entailed in the underlying neuroteratogenetic mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4-32
Number of pages29
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


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