Researchers from the Yale University School of Medicine led by Dr. Rajita Sinha, conducted a study to evaluate the gray matter differences and likelihood of substance use in adolescents who were cocaine-exposed prenatally versus those who were not.
For the study, the researchers recruited 42 adolescents between the ages of 14 and 17, exposed in utero, who are part of a long-term cohort that have been followed since birth.
The researchers also studied 21 non-cocaine-exposed adolescents for comparison. All of the participants underwent structural neuroimaging scans and answered questions about their use of all kinds of illegal drugs, in addition to submitting urine samples for toxicology analyses.
They found that the adolescents with prenatal cocaine exposure had lower gray matter volume in key brain regions involved in emotion, reward, memory, and executive function, compared with non-exposed adolescents.
Gray matter volume was also associated with initiation of substance use. Astoundingly, each 1-mL decrease in gray matter volume increased the probability of initiating substance use by 69.6 percent to 83.6 percent depending upon the region of the brain.
Sinha said that for the first time in kids they saw how mothers' in-utero cocaine use may translate to brain changes in the offspring that impact cognition, mood and health of the affected offspring later in life.
The new study has been published in Biological Psychiatry.