Ultrasound Affects Brain In Some Developing Mammals – Excessive Use Retards Development in Babies

Researchers believe that prolonged and frequent use of ultrasound on some pregnant mammals may cause abnormalities in the developing brain. So far, the research has only been done on mice. Further research is needed to determine if there are any negative effects on humans.

The Yale researchers injected more than 335 fetal mice at embryonic day 16 with special markers to track neuronal development. They found that when the mice were exposed to ultrasound waves (USW) for 30 minutes or longer, it caused a small but statistically significant number of neurons to remain scattered within inappropriate cortical layers and/or in the adjacent white matter.

UltrasoundUltrasoundNeurons in mammals multiply early in fetal development and then migrate to their final destinations following an inside-to-outside sequence. The destination defines the neurons' connectivity and function. It is believed that alcohol and drugs can contribute to abnormal cortical function.

Dr. Pasko Rakic said "Proper migration of neurons during development is essential for normal development of the cerebral cortex and its function. We have observed that a small but significant number of neurons in the mouse embryonic brain do not migrate to their proper positions in the cerebral cortex following prolonged and frequent exposure to ultrasound." Rakic is chair of the Department of Neurobiology and senior author of the study.

"The magnitude of dispersion of labeled neurons was highly variable but increased with duration of exposure to ultrasound waves," Rakic said. "These findings suggested the desirability of further work in this area. We do not have any evidence ourselves that USW cause behavioral effects in mice or have any effect on the developing human brain."

Rakic said "I want to emphasize that our study in mice does not mean that use of ultrasound on human fetuses for appropriate diagnostic and medical purposes should be abandoned. On the contrary: ultrasound has been shown to be very beneficial in the medical context. Instead, our study warns against its non-medical use. We intend to conduct further research, which will focus on non-human primates, to see if a similar effect is occurring in the developing larger brains, which are more similar to humans. Those upcoming studies should give us information that will be more directly applicable to uses of USW in humans."

The study appears in the August 7th Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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