No ‘Crack Babies,’ But Study Says Cocaine Use in Pregnancy Hurts

Research Summary
Cocaine use during pregnancy can cause cognitive impairments such as attention deficit, learning disabilities and emotional problems among children, according to researchers at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development.
“The hysteria surrounding the ‘crack baby’ was sort of overblown,” said lead author Gregg Stanwood, Ph.D. “[I]n women who have abused relatively low recreational doses of cocaine, it is actually very hard to distinguish those children at birth from children born to anyone else. However, as those children age, they do develop deficits in their cognitive and emotional development.”
Animal studies conducted by Stanwood and co-author Pat Levitt, Ph.D., found that prenatal cocaine exposure resulted in a lingering and impairing shift in dopamine receptors in the brain. “We thought that it was important to set up an animal model that recapitulates a key feature of human abuse — that being intravenous exposure to low doses of cocaine,” Stanwood noted.
The study found that the location of D1 dopamine receptors appeared to be permanently altered in cocaine-exposed animals, suggesting that maternal cocaine use during a key period of neural development may have long-lasting effects.
Source: Jan. 3, 2007 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

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