First Trimester DEX Treatment Is Not Associated with Altered Brain Activity During Working Memory Performance in Adults

Annelies Van't Westeinde, Marius Zimmermann, Valeria Messina, Leif Karlsson, Nelly Padilla, Svetlana Lajic

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CONTEXT: Prenatal dexamethasone (DEX) treatment is sometimes used in pregnancies at risk for congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) to prevent virilization in female fetuses with CAH. In boys and in fetuses not having CAH, there is no benefit of early DEX treatment and the risks of this therapy must be thoroughly investigated. High doses of prenatal glucocorticoid might alter the developmental trajectory of the brain into adulthood, even for CAH unaffected subjects treated with DEX for a short term during the first trimester. OBJECTIVE: The present study investigated brain activation during working memory performance in DEX-treated subjects compared with controls. DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: We tested 18 participants who were exposed to DEX during the first trimester of fetal life but did not have CAH (8 females; mean age 20.78 [standard deviation (SD), 2.67] years) and 40 control participants (24 females; mean age 20.53 [SD, 2.64]) from a single research institute. Participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging on a 3T scanner during a verbal and visuospatial working memory task. RESULTS: We did not observe any differences in brain activity during working memory performance. However, DEX-treated subjects responded faster during the experimental condition of the verbal WM task. CONCLUSIONS: First trimester DEX treatment did not seem to result in altered working memory-related brain activity at adult age. Our findings contribute to the risk-benefit assessment of prenatal DEX treatment in the context of CAH.

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism
Issue number11
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2020


  • Brain function
  • Cortisol
  • Dexamethasone
  • Prenatal glucocorticoid treatment
  • Working memory

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