Developmental consequences of fetal exposure to drugs: what we know and what we still must learn.

Ross EJ, Graham DL, Money KM, Stanwood GD
Neuropsychopharmacology. 2015 40 (1): 61-87

PMID: 24938210 · PMCID: PMC4262892 · DOI:10.1038/npp.2014.147

Most drugs of abuse easily cross the placenta and can affect fetal brain development. In utero exposures to drugs thus can have long-lasting implications for brain structure and function. These effects on the developing nervous system, before homeostatic regulatory mechanisms are properly calibrated, often differ from their effects on mature systems. In this review, we describe current knowledge on how alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, amphetamine, Ecstasy, and opiates (among other drugs) produce alterations in neurodevelopmental trajectory. We focus both on animal models and available clinical and imaging data from cross-sectional and longitudinal human studies. Early studies of fetal exposures focused on classic teratological methods that are insufficient for revealing more subtle effects that are nevertheless very behaviorally relevant. Modern mechanistic approaches have informed us greatly as to how to potentially ameliorate the induced deficits in brain formation and function, but conclude that better delineation of sensitive periods, dose-response relationships, and long-term longitudinal studies assessing future risk of offspring to exhibit learning disabilities, mental health disorders, and limited neural adaptations are crucial to limit the societal impact of these exposures.

MeSH Terms (11)

Analgesics, Opioid Animals Brain Central Nervous System Stimulants Female Fetal Development Humans Nicotine Pregnancy Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects Substance-Related Disorders

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