Prenatal caffeine exposure association with neurodevelopmental outcomes in 9-11 year-old children

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Video abstract from Rui Zhang on her JCPP paper ‘Prenatal caffeine exposure: association with neurodevelopmental outcomes in 9- to 11-year-old children’.
Authors: Rui Zhang, Peter Manza, Nora D. Volkow

First published: 27 July 2021

Dr. Rui Zhang
Dr. Rui Zhang

Rui studied psychology at the University of Marburg and received her Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience from the Technical University of Dresden in Germany. After Ph.D., Rui joined LNI as a special volunteer with research fellowship from German Research Foundation in November 2018 and became a postdoctoral IRTA fellow afterwards. Her research focuses on the role of sleep in drug addiction using multimodal imaging techniques (e.g. fMRI, EEG). She is currently working on sex differences in sleep and how this is affected by drug use. Bio via National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism


Hi everyone, my name is Rui Zhang and I am a postdoctoral fellow at National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. In this video I would like to walk you through our paper recently published in the ‘Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry’ titled ‘prenatal caffeine exposure: association with neurodevelopmental outcomes in 9- to 11-year-old children’.

So first what motivates us to examine prenatal caffeine exposure? As we know, caffeine is the most commonly used psychostimulant worldwide. During pregnancy, the capacity of women to metabolize caffeine is markedly reduced. Further, the capacity of fetuses to metabolize caffeine has not been fully developed. Therefore, it’s very likely that maternal caffeine intake during pregnancy can lead to accumulation of caffeine in the fetus’s brain which leads to the question whether prenatal caffeine exposure would affect neurodevelopment in offspring. So far, most population studies have focused on negative pregnancy outcomes and we know very little about neurodevelopmental outcomes particularly exposure-related brain changes in children.

What we did in this study is that we used data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study, also called ABCD study. We examined associations between prenatal caffeine exposure and various developmental outcomes including birth outcomes, physical health, behavior problems, cognition, substance use and brain structure in 9978 children aged 9-11 years whose mothers did not use drugs of abuse after knowing of pregnancy. Also, we evaluated dose effects by comparing the widely recommended ‘safe’ dose exposure, i.e., up to two cups per day with high dose exposure i.e., more than two cups per day. After carefully controlling for a broad range of covariates such as parental psychopathology, we found that prenatal caffeine exposure including the ‘safe’ dose was associated with greater externalizing problems, while high dose exposures were associated with greater BMI and soda consumption in children. Notably, the effect size of observed association with externalizing problems was comparable to previous reports for prenatal alcohol and prenatal cannabis exposures using the same dataset. In terms of brain correlates, we found greater posterior and lower frontal cortical thickness and altered parietooccipital sulcal depth in children with prenatal caffeine exposure which might reflect a developmental delay of cortical pruning and cortical thinning, an important process for brain maturation.

In this study we also explored parental characteristics associated with high caffeine consumption during pregnancy. For detailed information and more discussion, please check out our paper.

We believe that our findings can have a significant contribution to public health. The current findings suggest that the recommended ‘safe’ dose must be studied more closely, for it may have negative effects in children’s brain development and behavior.

Thank you for your attention. Please feel free to contact me if you have any comments.


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