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Invited Commentary
December 2016

Refining the Understanding of the Effects of Prenatal Methamphetamine and Tobacco Exposure on the Developing Brain

Author Affiliations
  • 1Stellenbosch University/University of Cape Town Medical Research Council Unit on Anxiety and Stress Disorders, Department of Psychiatry, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa
  • 2Division of Developmental Paediatrics, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
JAMA Psychiatry. 2016;73(12):1228-1229. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.2845

The field of brain imaging for infants is evolving fast. Considerable progress has been made in addressing the great practical challenges that relate to acquiring sufficient data from naturally sleeping infants, for whom sedation is not clinically indicated, and overcoming the technical challenges of analysis. The current challenges facing this evolving field include the consideration of how environmental and clinical factors may alter brain development in the early months of life and defining developmental trajectories. Particularly pressing issues include how prenatal substance exposures affect the very young developing brain. Sex appears to inform not only differences in normal white matter maturation and development, but also differential vulnerability to environmental insults.1 Early neural and behavioral biomarkers may inform early interventions, and these, in turn, may reduce the adverse effects of substances on exposed children. In addition, sex distinction has become increasingly recognized as an important factor to consider in these studies.

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