Long-term impacts of prenatal synthetic glucocorticoids exposure on functional brain correlates of cognitive monitoring in adolescence
The fetus is highly responsive to the level of glucocorticoids in the gestational environment. Perturbing glucocorticoids during fetal development could yield long-term consequences. Extending prior research about effects of prenatally exposed synthetic glucocorticoids (sGC) on brain structural development during childhood, we investigated functional brain correlates of cognitive conflict monitoring in term-born adolescents, who were prenatally exposed to sGC. Relative to the comparison group, behavioral response consistency (indexed by lower reaction time variability) and a brain correlate of conflict monitoring (the N2 event-related potential) were reduced in the sGC exposed group. Relatedly, source localization analyses showed that activations in the fronto-parietal network, most notably in the cingulate cortex and precuneus, were also attenuated in these adolescents. These regions are known to subserve conflict detection and response inhibition as well as top-down regulation of stress responses. Moreover, source activation in the anterior cingulate cortex correlated negatively with reaction time variability, whereas activation in the precuneus correlated positively with salivary cortisol reactivity to social stress in the sGC exposed group. Taken together, findings of this study indicate that prenatal exposure to sGC yields lasting impacts on the development of fronto-parietal brain functions during adolescence, affecting multiple facets of adaptive cognitive and behavioral control.