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Research Project: Impact of Early Dietary Factors on Child Development and Health

Location: Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center

Title: Brain cortical structure and executive function in children may be influenced by parental choices of infant diets

Author
item LI, TING - University Arkansas For Medical Sciences (UAMS)
item Badger, Thomas
item BELLANDO, B - Arkansas Children'S Nutrition Research Center (ACNC)
item SORENSEN, S - Arkansas Children'S Nutrition Research Center (ACNC)
item LOU, XIANGYANG - Arkansas Children'S Nutrition Research Center (ACNC)
item OU, XIAWEI - Arkansas Children'S Nutrition Research Center (ACNC)

Submitted to: American Journal of Neuroradiology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/17/2020
Publication Date: 7/1/2020
Citation: Li, T., Badger, T.M., Bellando, B.J., Sorensen, S.T., Lou, X., Ou, X. 2020. Brain cortical structure and executive function in children may be influenced by parental choices of infant diets. American Journal of Neuroradiology. 41(7):1302-1308. https://doi.org/10.3174/ajnr.A6601.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.3174/ajnr.A6601

Interpretive Summary: While it is known that breastfeeding promotes healthy brain development in children, the potential effects of formulas differing largely in composition (i.e., milk-based versus soy-based) during infancy on brain development are unclear. In this study, seventy-one 8 year old children who were predominantly breastfed (BF), milk formula fed (MF), or soy formula fed (SF) during infancy were recruited for an MRI examination of the brain anatomy and a questionnaire assessment (completed by parents) of executive functions (a set of higher order brain functions) associated behavior. It was found that there were a few brain regions having differences in brain anatomy measures such as cortical thickness and cortex surface area (cortex is the outer layer of the brain structure that processes neural signals) between SF and MF groups, particularly for boys. In addition, there were also differences in some of the executive function behavior measures between SF and MF boys. Importantly, there were no brain developmental abnormalities or clinically significant behavior issues for any of the children in the three feeding groups. Our results suggest that while different types of FDA-approved formula feeding (milk-based versus soy-based) during infancy were not associated with any brain abnormality or behavior concerns, choice of infant diets (i.e., BF, MF, SF) may have long-term and sex-specific effects on children's brain cortical development and executive functions associated behavior.

Technical Abstract: While it is known that breastfeeding promotes healthy brain development in children, the potential effects of formulas substantially differing in composition (i.e., milk-based versus soy-based) during infancy on brain development are unclear. Seventy-one 8 year old children who were predominantly breastfed (BF), milk formula fed (MF), or soy formula fed (SF) during infancy were recruited for an MRI examination of the brain and a Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF) assessment (completed via questionnaire to the parents). Brain cortical features measured from MRI such as cortical thickness and surface area were extracted and compared among groups and correlated with BRIEF test scores. Clusters in the frontal and occipital lobes showed significant differences (cluster-wise p = 0.05, corrected for multiple comparisons) in cortical thickness or surface area among the three diet groups. The effects were more prominent for boys, particularly for the MF boys versus SF boys comparison. Assessments of executive functions and behavior showed significant differences in BRIEF scores between MF and SF groups, which were mostly attributed to differences in boys. There were no differences between MF and BF groups for either sex. Mean cortical thickness for several of the clusters in the brain showing infant diet-associated effects significantly correlated with BRIEF scores. Choices of infant diets (ie, breastfed, milk formula fed, soy formula fed) may have long-term and sex-specific effects on the cortical development and executive function and behavior of children's brains.