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Neural Development and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Research Paper


Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is defined as mental and/or physical defects occurring in fetuses born by mothers who had persistent alcohol consumption during pregnancy; alcohol is a teratogen in a mother’s womb, and its excessive consumption results in adverse effects on fetus development (Garrett, 2010). In medical terms, conditions resulting from alcohol consumption are referred to as ARBD (Alcohol-Related Birth Defects); the most detrimental ARBD is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).

Glial cells and their continued interaction with neurons play an essential role in brain development and have an effect on adults brain power; during pregnancy, when mothers are engaged in excessive consumption of alcohol, they reduce the rate at which the brain develops (Nayak & Murthy, 2008). In neural development, there are a number of cells that should be operating at an optimal rate; however, alcohol retardates the cell development rate. This paper discusses Fetal Alcohol Syndrome; it will focus on the cells that are affected by alcohol and the effects it has on human life in the efforts of creating an interface between biology and psychology in child development.

Neural Development (the biological process at an ideal condition)

At ideal situation, the pre-natal world of a child is an environment of sanity and one that does not have any foreign things that can reduce the sanity and purity of the womb. At this condition, the mother is taking adequate and healthy food to facilitate the growth of the child. The process of brain development is complex and involves a number of functions; the process is called ontogenetic process; a biological process through which mammalian central nervous system (MCS) is developed in the mother’s womb; it involves cells generation, cell migrations, and cell maturation.
During the above process, numerous migrations and growth that need to operate at an ideal situation without disturbance, neuronal migration, which should follow mitotic neurons, are guided by glia fibers to build the strength of human brains and mental development. The process is the one that builds neuronal process elongation, neurite guidance, and the formation of functioning synapses; the above three are the main components of the human brain. When any of the processes are interrupted, the growth is hampered, and the effect is felt in one’s life (Varier & Kaiser, 2011). It is the role of the mothers and medical practitioners to ensure that the food and the medication that he takes at pregnancy will not affect the life in her.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Research has found a close connection between changing the internal fetus environment through a repercussion of an external environmental in mothers’ wombs; the influenced internal physiological environment affects the development of a child’s brains. Ethanol found in alcohol is believed to be the main cause of brain defects in the fetus; it affects the glial cells; research and experiments have should that glia cells are affected by neurotoxic agents. Alcohol toxicities the brain developments agents, and the results are FAS; the following are the main symptoms of a person suffering From FAS:

  • Pre and post-natal growth retardation/deficiency
  • Minor or major abnormalities found on patients face and skin
  • Neurological damage and behavior disturbance
  • Long term cognitive and behavior deficits

Brain injury

Ethanol has the ability to penetrate the placenta and enter the fetal circulatory system, when in the system its acts as toxic addition of materials in the process, thus affect the normal functioning of the brain development process. Alcohol interferes with placental blood flow to the fetus; it does this by constricting blood vessel and blood-brain barrier of the fetus, the effect it will have depends with gestational period, dosage, and chronicity of abuse; when in the system, the immediate observable effects are hypoxia and fetal malnutrition.

Research and experiments have shown that utero alcohol exposure has an effect on structural and functional abnormalities in the brain of fetus; the abnormalities occur when there is interference between gliogenesis and glial-neuranal interaction process in the brain process. The effects in the brains can be classified into the following areas:

  • Impairs cells growth and developments in the brains, this causes physical and psychological abnormalities in children suffering from FAS
  • Interferes with glia fibrillary acidic protection, when the protection is reduced, it exposes the brain to damage that may cause complete damage of the brain
  • Stimulatory effects of trophic factors, when this happens, then it interferes with protein trafficking that is necessary for brain growth

During the fetus stage, the brain structure of the child is affected by toxic elements that find their way to the womb destroying the normal operation of the process. When alcohol is injuring the brains, the process is an interference with the normal operation of the ontogenetic process; the following are the structure of effects:

Effects on oligodendrocytes (effects on optic nerve)

Ethanol has an effect on oligodendrocytes and myelin developments; in normal situations, there should be a facilitated expression of myelin basic proteins (MBPs) and transferring in brains. When this happens, then there is a reiterated growth of the brains, and the patient suffers long life damage on the brains. With the delayed intersection, the myelin thickness is reduced, which means that fewer myelinated axioms affect the optic nerve. The above-interpreted process is believed to be the main cause of visual problems in children suffering from FAS (Guerri, Pascual & Jaime, 2001).

Effects on Astrogilial cells

Research has found that ethanol has an effect on L1 adhesion molecules; they are the molecules that prevent toxic and foreign elements get to the brain nerve system of the fetus when the active peptides from NAP and SAL (Brain proteins) are interfered with, the brain of the child is exposed to damages and dangers of external environment. When the process of brain development is hampered, then the neuronal migration is tampered with, and reduction in size and number of glial cells from the somatosensory cortex results in a reiterated growth of the brain. The effect of the system is seen in the corpus callosum in children with FAS (Guerri, Pascual & Jaime, 2001).


Teratogens are agents likely to be found in mother’s womb and have an effect on the birth of the newborn; a normal situation, mother’s womb should be free from impurities and any external things that can affect the health and development of a child; Teratogens results into children born with birth defects. Some defects can be physical while others are psychological; it is expected that about 4-5% of birth defects be caused by Teratogens (one, Moore & Erickson, 2004).

When a pregnant mother is consuming alcohol, ethanol finds its way into the development system of the child resulting in birth defects. After dertilization, it takes about ten days before the embryo is anchored into the uterus; after the anchoring, then the embryo is fed through the blood system of the mother. The close connection means that if in the mother’s blood, there is some intoxication, then they can find their way into the baby and have an effect on the child (onein, Moore & Erickson, 2004).

There some organ developments that are sensitive to teratogens throughout the process, the main area affected is the development of the central nervous system; the central nervous system has the embryos spinal code and brain. When a mother is consuming alcohol at any stage in the pregnancy, then the ethanol in alcohol has the potential of affecting the central nervous system, which in turn is a sensitive development stage. When affected, it results to abnormalities like FAS (Pinto & Schub, 2011).

The following are the effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (this section interface between biology and psychology)

Pre and post-natal growth retardation/deficiency

When a child is suffering from birth defects resulting from consumption of alcohol during pregnancy, growth deficiency is in the form of average height and weight and in some extreme situations both. Some of the physical defects of the children suffering from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome are: the face is pale, they have red deeply rooted eyes, they have penetrating forehead on a small head. When someone looks at the child and knowing the age, one can tell that there was a problem somewhere. It has been discovered that there is a close relationship between human attitude, behavior and personality and the size; when someone has some deficit in one area, they tend to be aggressive and have high temper (Cohen & Swerdlik, 2010).

Neurological damage and behavior disturbance

Children suffering from FAS have damaged neurology; their behavior on the other side is affected; behavior has both attributes of socialization and some inborn traits. The hereditary process involves the development of attributes in the child during pregnancy; when a mother is consuming alcohol in large volumes, then the process is hampered. The strength of the brain is an important attribute in decision making and ensuring that the child or a person is of the right will, personality and can make sound decisions. The reduced growth rate cause by teratogens in alcohol affects the child throughout their life.

Research has found that people who might have suffered from FAS are more likely to suffer from cognitive disorders in their later life. Cognitive disorders are the feeling that a person get when he or she is confronted by two opposing ideas at the same time. It happens when one is persuaded to do something that is contrary to his or her believed. It can be explained as embarrassment, guilt or the uncomfortable feeling. The strength of the feeling is increased with the increase in the importance of the conflicting matter and the inability to make a rational decision on the best way of doing something.

As a result of the slowed brain growth rate and development of the central nervous system, the social life of a person suffering from FAS is affected, at young age, the children has problems in developing normally, for example they may take long before they start talking, walking or even toileting themselves. They are gloomy and seem not to have interest in what is going around them. When the child is the age of going to school, the child has difficulties in learning and socialization; he opts to engage in games played by children younger than him/her, probably because his mind is not at par with those of his age. In adult life, the person’s character posses some abnormalities which include inappropriately friendly to strangers, this is so because his mind is not acute sensitive of any danger than he/she might be exposed as a result of being with the stranger (Platzman, Erickson & Falek, 1991).

Human emotions are a factor of hereditary and developmental factors; when the child is developing, during infancy, the John Bowlby’s theory of internal working models states that for health social and emotional development, a child requires the care and emotional attachment of their parents; however, the attachment can only occur for a certain defined period. On the other hand, learning theory of development is of the opinion that at different stages in the child development, there are things that the child should be learning. In the case of a child who has suffered birth complications, FAS, then the rate at which the child learns is prolonged.

Parents and caregivers are caught by time and they precede the child before he has fully moulded the mental and emotional attachments. The result is a child who cannot control his emotions even in adult hood. At this tender age (tender in the sense that the child has not fully developed as per its years), a child mind is opened to learn from the surrounding. The young brain is exposed to things that are practically not right, the result of the case can be seen even in adulthood where you find people with lack of control over emotions, poor impulse control and people who are not sure who to trust, love or confide in (Cohen & Swerdlik, 2010).

Human brainpower has an effect on the decisions that a person makes; intelligence, which happens to be a factor of hereditary and socialisation has a linkage with the brains development. Children who have suffered birth defects like FAS have low intelligence rates. Intelligence is an individual’s minds power; it defines why different people have different capabilities. It is sum of different aspects some inborn, developed, shaped and moulded by socialisation. Intelligence building starts from child conception, where children have some attributes of intelligence at birth like suckling.

After birth, intelligence develops alongside ones personality; when a child has low intelligence, then the power and the mental drive that the child as is hampered. The reasoning capacity does not conform to the age of the child and in most times he is seen as out of place. Intelligence assessment is gauging the potential that a person have, whereas achievement assessment us measuring how much somebody has learnt. The focus on achievement knowledge is the achieved knowledge while that of intelligence assessment is how someone can make meaning out of the prevailing condition (Shaffer, 2009).


Although physicians are engaging in massive research to see whether there is something that can be done on children who have suffered FAS, one thing is for sure the effects are long lasting, and cannot be treated. There have been tests to do surgery on some areas but the success rate is minimal, at schools and day care units, some programs have been implemented to boost the mental capacity of children suffering from FAS however, the success rate of the programs is minimal. The fact of the matter is despite the efforts made by medical practitioners, and social workers (here it include teachers, parents and the community), the child will have a below average in physical and mental development throughout his life; this statistics calls for prevention measures.


The surest way that mothers can do is to avoid alcohol during pregnancy; according to research, consumption of alcohol at any stage of the pregnancy can have an effect on the child. Visiting an expert from time to time is important to establish if there is any Teratogen in the womb, which can affect the fetus. When a woman is pregnant, it is crucial to be following pre-natal clinics so that incase of something the doctor can advice.


Pregnant mothers consuming alcohol risk the chance of getting children suffering from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome; ethanol interferes with child biological development and results into a child with mental and/or physical defects. At normal neural development, the womb offers a risk-free child development environment; however when teratogens, like ethanol get their way to the womb, they interfere with the operation and the result is a child who has mental, central nervous system and physical defects. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome cannot be cured; children suffering from the condition have below average physical and mental development throughout their life, the surest way of preventing the occurrence of the condition is not taking alcohol during pregnancy.


Cohen, R., & Swerdlik, E.(2010). Psychological Testing and Assessment. An Introduction to Tests and Measurement. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill Company.

Garrett, B. (2010). Brain & Behavior: An Introduction to Biological Psychology. London: Sage Pubns.

Guerri, C., Pascual, M., & Jaime, R. (2001). Glia and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Neurotaxicology, 22(1), 593-599.

Nayak, R., & Murthy, P. (2008). Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Indian Pediatrics, 45(12), 977-983.

onein, M., Moore, C., & Erickson, J. (2004). Can we ensure the safe use of known human teratogens? Introduction of generic isotretinoin in the US as an example. Drug Safety: An International Journal Of Medical Toxicology And Drug Experience, 27(14), 1069-1080.

Pinto, S., & Schub, T. (2011). Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Web.

Platzman, K, Erickson, S.,& Falek, A. (1991). Effects of prenatal alcohol exposure at school age. I. Physical and cognitive development. Neurotoxicol Teratol 13 (4): 357–67.

Shaffer, D. (2009). Social and Personality Development (6th Ed). Belmont, CA: Belmont.

Varier, S., & Kaiser, M. (2011). Neural development features: spatio-temporal development of the Caenorhabditis elegans neuronal network. Plos Computational Biology, 7(1), 144.

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