Fetal antiepileptic drug exposure and learning and memory functioning at 6?years of age: The NEAD prospective observational study. Epilepsy & behavior : E&B Cohen, M. J., Meador, K. J., May, R., Loblein, H., Conrad, T., Baker, G. A., Bromley, R. L., Clayton-Smith, J., Kalayjian, L. A., Kanner, A., Liporace, J. D., Pennell, P. B., Privitera, M., Loring, D. W., NEAD Study Group 2019; 92: 154–64


The Neurodevelopmental Effects of Antiepileptic Drugs (NEAD) Study was a prospective observational multicenter study in the USA and UK, which enrolled pregnant women with epilepsy on antiepileptic drug (AED) monotherapy from 1999 to 2004. The study aimed to determine if differential long-term neurodevelopmental effects exist across four commonly used AEDs (carbamazepine, lamotrigine, phenytoin, and valproate). In this report, we examine fetal AED exposure effects on learning and memory functions in 221 six-year-old children (including four sets of twins) whose mothers took one of these AEDs during pregnancy. Their performance was compared with that of a national sample of normally developing six year olds from the standardization sample of the Children's Memory Scale (CMS). The major results of this study indicate that the mean performance levels of children exposed to valproate were significantly below that of the children in the normal comparison group across all seven of the CMS Indexes. With one exception, this finding held up at the subtest level as well. These findings taken together with nonsignificant verbal and nonverbal forgetting scores appear to indicate that, as a group, children exposed to valproate experienced significant difficulty in their ability to process, encode, and learn both auditory/verbal as well as visual/nonverbal material. In addition, they exhibited significant difficulty holding and manipulating information in immediate auditory working memory. However, once the information was learned and stored, the valproate-exposed children appeared to be able to retrieve the information they did learn at normal levels. Finally, the processing, working memory, and learning deficits demonstrated by the valproate-exposed children are dose-related. In contrast to valproate, the findings pertaining to the children exposed to carbamazepine, lamotrigine, and phenytoin in monotherapy are less clear. Therefore, further research will be required to delineate the potential risks to learning and memory functions in children exposed to carbamazepine, lamotrigine, and phenytoin in monotherapy during pregnancy. Additional research employing larger prospective studies will be required to confirm the long-term cognitive and behavioral risks to children of mothers who are prescribed these four AEDs during pregnancy as well as to delineate any potential risks of newer AEDs and to understand the underlying mechanisms of adverse AED effects on the immature brain.

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