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Cognitive outcome of offspring from dexamethasone-treated pregnancies at risk for congenital adrenal hyperplasia due to 21-hydroxylase deficiency

Heino F L Meyer-Bahlburg, Curtis Dolezal, Rita Haggerty, Michael Silverman, Maria I New
European Journal of Endocrinology 2012, 167 (1): 103-10

OBJECTIVES: To test whether dexamethasone (DEX) treatment in pregnancies at risk for congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) impairs cognitive functioning in the offspring.

DESIGN: Observational follow-up of prenatally DEX-exposed offspring and controls.

METHODS: Study 1 included 140 children aged 512 years: 67 DEX-exposed (long-term: eight CAH girls) and 73 unexposed (with 15 CAH girls). Study 2 included 20 participants aged 11-24 years: seven DEX-exposed (long-term: one CAH woman) and 13 unexposed (with four CAH women). Neuropsychological testing was done in hospital settings or at patients' homes. Data analysis aimed at maximizing detection of the effects of DEX exposure.

RESULTS: The vast majority of group comparisons were not marginally or conventionally significant. The few significant findings on short-term prenatal DEX exposure suggested more positive than adverse outcomes. By contrast, few significant findings in females with CAH and long-term DEX exposure indicated slower mental processing than in controls on several neuropsychological variables, although partial correlations of DEX exposure duration with cognitive outcome did not corroborate this association.

CONCLUSIONS: Although our studies do not replicate a previously reported adverse effect of short-term prenatal DEX exposure on working memory, our findings on cognitive function in CAH girls with long-term DEX exposure contribute to concerns about potentially adverse cognitive after effects of such exposure. Yet, our studies are not definitive, and replications in larger samples are required.

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