A recent study by University of North Carolina researchers, involving brain scans of 152 infants, found disruptions in functional connectivity within part of the amygdala prefrontal network, a pathway thought to play an important role in arousal regulation.
Alterations in the brain’s functional organization were found in both groups that had prenatal drug exposure. The group with prenatal cocaine exposure had additional alterations that the other drug control group did not have.
A reduced inverse correlation between the amygdala and part of the prefrontal cortex was found to be specifically associated with prenatal cocaine exposure, which may indicate a potential failure, or risk for failure, in the suppression of amygdala responses from the higher-order prefrontal cortex.
The disruption of this functional circuit may potentially underlie the arousal dysregulation trait frequently observed for infants with prenatal cocaine exposure.
Overall, this study revealed that rsfMRI in infants may play a pivotal role in the search for objective biomarkers for the identification of risks and guidance of early intervention to improve later behavioral outcomes.