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Neuroimaging is a novel tool to understand the impact of environmental chemicals on neurodevelopment

Horton, Megan K.a; Margolis, Amy E.b; Tang, Cheukc; Wright, Roberta

Current Opinion in Pediatrics: April 2014 - Volume 26 - Issue 2 - p 230–236
doi: 10.1097/MOP.0000000000000074

Purpose of review The prevalence of childhood neurodevelopmental disorders has been increasing over the last several decades. Prenatal and early childhood exposure to environmental toxicants is increasingly recognized as contributing to the growing rate of neurodevelopmental disorders. Very little information is known about the mechanistic processes by which environmental chemicals alter brain development. We review the recent advances in brain imaging modalities and discuss their application in epidemiologic studies of prenatal and early childhood exposure to environmental toxicants.

Recent findings Neuroimaging techniques (volumetric and functional MRI, diffusor tensor imaging, and magnetic resonance spectroscopy) have opened unprecedented access to study the developing human brain. These techniques are noninvasive and free of ionization radiation making them suitable for research applications in children. Using these techniques, we now understand much about structural and functional patterns in the typically developing brain. This knowledge allows us to investigate how prenatal exposure to environmental toxicants may alter the typical developmental trajectory.

Summary MRI is a powerful tool that allows in-vivo visualization of brain structure and function. Used in epidemiologic studies of environmental exposure, it offers the promise to causally link exposure with behavioral and cognitive manifestations and ultimately to inform programs to reduce exposure and mitigate adverse effects of exposure.

aDepartment of Preventive Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

bDivision of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Center for Developmental Neuropsychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, the New York State Psychiatric Institute and the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health, Columbia University

cDepartments of Radiology and Psychiatry, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York, USA

Correspondence to Megan K. Horton, PhD, Department of Preventive Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, 17 East 102nd St, New York, NY 10029, USA. Tel: +1 212 824 7038; fax: +1 212 996 0407; e-mail:

© 2014 Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins