Cocaine abuse in women is correlated with a high incidence of child neglect and abuse. Additionally, young children prenatally exposed to cocaine have been reported to exhibit early signs of neurobehavioral stress including excessive and high-pitched crying, increased state lability, decreased response to caregivers, stress-related behavioral differences, and poor social behavior in later life. Animal models can more directly assess the neurobiological mechanisms and behavioral responses of drug-treated dams and their drug exposed offspring than human studies, though both are important and can inform one another. Studies have shown that prenatal cocaine exposure alters various cognitive and social behaviors in rats, but less is known about what this exposure does to very early brain development and behavior 'of these pups that may alter maternal behavior even by non drug-treated dams. Using a rat model of cocaine-induced maternal neglect, it was recently found that chronic gestational cocaine (CC) treatment during pregnancy decreased pupdirected maternal behavior (MB) towards their own and non-exposed pups, but data indicated, that mothers from both drug-treated and control groups exhibited delayed or less MB towards cocaine-exposed pups during the early postpartum period. Rodent mothers attend to specific stimuli of pups in caring for them, such as cries, body temperature, nursing elicitation by pups, and olfactory stimuli. Thus, these recent studies suggest that specific characteristics of CC exposed pups may elicit differential care from all post-partum dams. Human mothers using cocaine have been shown to perceive baby cries as less urgent than non-drug using mothers, suggesting that cocaine may also alter the ability of the mother to attend to specific stimuli from their babies. Together these data implicate that cocaine-induced changes in both mother and offspring influence quality of maternal care, although little is understood about the mechanisms underlying these effects. Oxytocin (OT), a neurohormone particularly important for normal maternal, affiliative, and stress response behaviors in non-human animals, has been found to be reduced in CC treated rat dams who display disruptions in early maternal behavior and in offspring who are less social. Interestingly, in a recent human study, women with a history of cocaine abuse had lower plasma levels of oxytocin than mothers with no drug history, were less likely to pick up their babies at home, and had a different endocrine stress response pattern. The proposed studies are designed to determine (a.) if cocaine-exposed (CC) pups exhibit aberrations in behavioral, physiological, neurological, or endocrine characteristics that could influence elicitation of care in the early postnatal period;(b.) how gestational cocaine (CC) or control treatments (untreated-UN, saline treated-CS) in rat dams influence the dam's response to different infant characteristics or behavior;and (c.) if there are differences in physiological, early genetic, endocrine, or neurostructural mechanisms underlying behavioral changes in offspring and/or dams during the early postpartum period that may be disrupting mother-infant interactions when maternal care is so vital.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Research Program Projects (P01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZDA1-RXL-E)
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill
United States
Zip Code
Shnitko, Tatiana A; Mace, Kyla D; Sullivan, Kaitlin M et al. (2017) Use of fast-scan cyclic voltammetry to assess phasic dopamine release in rat models of early postpartum maternal behavior and neglect. Behav Pharmacol 28:648-660
Swanson, Meghan R; Wolff, Jason J; Elison, Jed T et al. (2017) Splenium development and early spoken language in human infants. Dev Sci 20:
Leming, Matthew; Steiner, Rachel; Styner, Martin (2016) A framework for incorporating DTI Atlas Builder registration into Tract-Based Spatial Statistics and a simulated comparison to standard TBSS. Proc SPIE Int Soc Opt Eng 9788:
Lee, Joohwi; Kim, Sun Hyung; Oguz, Ipek et al. (2016) Enhanced Cortical Thickness Measurements for Rodent Brains via Lagrangian-based RK4 Streamline Computation. Proc SPIE Int Soc Opt Eng 9784:
Lee, Joohwi; Kim, Sun Hyung; Styner, Martin (2016) Multi-Object Model-based Multi-Atlas Segmentation for Rodent Brains using Dense Discrete Correspondences. Proc SPIE Int Soc Opt Eng 9784:
Salzwedel, Andrew P; Grewen, Karen M; Goldman, Barbara D et al. (2016) Thalamocortical functional connectivity and behavioral disruptions in neonates with prenatal cocaine exposure. Neurotoxicol Teratol 56:16-25
Wilbanks, Haley E; Von Mohr, Mariana; Potenza, Marc N et al. (2016) Tobacco Smoking and the Resting Maternal Brain: A Preliminary Study of Frontal EEG. Yale J Biol Med 89:115-22
Rutherford, Helena J V; Gerig, Guido; Gouttard, Sylvain et al. (2015) Investigating Maternal Brain Structure and its Relationship to Substance Use and Motivational Systems. Yale J Biol Med 88:211-7
Lipschitz, David L; Kuhn, Renee; Kinney, Anita Y et al. (2015) An Exploratory Study of the Effects of Mind-Body Interventions Targeting Sleep on Salivary Oxytocin Levels in Cancer Survivors. Integr Cancer Ther 14:366-80
Stuebe, Alison M; Meltzer-Brody, Samantha; Pearson, Brenda et al. (2015) Maternal neuroendocrine serum levels in exclusively breastfeeding mothers. Breastfeed Med 10:197-202

Showing the most recent 10 out of 72 publications