January 20, 2007

Prenatal Cocaine Exposure Has Lasting Effects Inside Brain Cells

In spite of studies disproving the dire predictions of two decades ago that "crack babies" were destined to have severe behavior problems, even small amounts of cocaine use during pregnancy can cause subtle but disabling cognitive impairments such as attention deficits, learning disabilities and mental illness, later in life even though the children may initially appear no different than their peers early in life. Research suggested that cocaine exposure had altered the development of dopamine pathways in the brain with a decrease in the functioning of dopamine D1 receptors.

Some of the subtle symptoms of some children prenatally exposed to cocaine can be similar to those with childhood-onset bipolar and schizophrenia-spectrum disorders, and similar to those disorders, home environment can have an ameliorative effect on some children, at least for some aspects and early on.

Researchers Gregg Stanford, Ph.D. and Pat Levitt, Ph.D. at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development, in a new study reported in the Journal of Neuroscience, used "teenage" rabbits exposed to cocaine prenatally as an animal model to gain a better understanding of the mechanism behind how that exposure might influence brain development to cause these dopamine D1 impairments later in life.

What they found was that many of the D1 receptors, instead of being on the cell surface of the brain neurons where expected, had developed in the wrong place - inside the cells instead of on the surface! Additionally, neuron growth was was found to be altered.

Dr. Stanwood says of the D1 receptor findings that the effect appears to be permanent. He went on to say that these findings need to be verified in humans that had been exposed to cocaine prenatally, and expressed hope that the findings may lead to the development of new methods to treat cocaine-exposed babies as they mature.

Read the Vanderbilt University Press Release: Cocaine Exposure’s Lasting Effects Studied
Original Source: Journal of Neuroscience Jan 2007; 27: 152 - 157

Additional Reading:
Cocaine Gives Clue to Schizophrenia Behavior
Memory and Cognitive Function


I hope this may lead to researchers looking at the brain development of childhood-onset schizophrenia-spectrum disorders on a cellular level as well.

Interestingly, the care provider of my at-the-time baby, who had been fostering infants off-and-on for 28 years, had only cared for one baby similar to mine, and it had been a "crack-baby". Of course, though, I didn't "do drugs", this was a planned baby, and I didn't partake in even caffeine during my pregnancy.

Posted by: Naomi at January 20, 2007 11:59 AM

Possible that this may lead somewhere but keep in mind the article is not referring to schizophrenia.

Posted by: Dr.Vic at February 7, 2007 03:30 PM

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