Biobehavioral Outcomes in Adolescents and Young Adults Prenatally Exposed to Cocaine: Evidence From Animal Models
AbstractCocaine has been a popular illicit drug among drug-using pregnant women over the last three decades. Prenatal cocaine exposure (PCE) has significant effects on children's development throughout early childhood. Very few human studies, however, report the effects of PCE on adolescent or early-adult development. As knowledge about early childhood effects in human children was informed by animal studies, this review considers the effects of PCE on behavioral outcomes in adolescent and young adult animals and provides potential guidance for research in human children. Animal models prenatally exposed to cocaine manifest play deficits, decreased social interaction, and increased aggression during competition in adolescence and young adulthood. Altered behavioral adaptation after stress exposure, including hormonal response change, is also evident. Attention deficits are reported in adult offspring with PCE, not only in a novel environment, but also in a final task session, indicating effects of PCE on transition and maintenance of attention. Animal studies support that PCE effects may extend beyond early childhood and continue to adolescence and adulthood. Additionally, some studies highlight that behavioral changes in offspring with PCE born without teratogenesis remain latent and reveal themselves during adulthood when animals are under stress conditions. Based on the evidence from animal models, well-designed human studies are needed to elucidate the effects of PCE on older human children. Research models that combine behavioral measures with stressful challenges may hold potential in discerning a longer term influence of PCE.