Prenatal Cocaine Exposure and Adolescent Neural Responses to Appetitive and Stressful Stimuli
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Preclinical research has demonstrated the effects of prenatal cocaine exposure (PCE) on brain regions involved in emotional regulation, motivational control, and addiction vulnerability-eg, the ventral striatum (VS), anterior cingulate (ACC), and prefrontal cortex (PFC). However, little is known about the function of these regions in human adolescents with PCE. Twenty-two adolescents with PCE and 22 age-, gender-, and IQ-matched non-cocaine exposed (NCE) adolescents underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during exposure to individually personalized neutral/relaxing, stressful, and favorite-food cues. fMRI data were compared using group-level two-tailed t-tests in the BioImage Suite. In comparison with NCE adolescents, PCE adolescents had reduced activity within cortical and subcortical brain regions, including the VS, ACC, and medial and dorslolateral PFC during exposure to favorite-food cues but did not differ in neural responses to stress cues. Subjective food craving was inversely related to dorsolateral PFC activation among PCE adolescents. Among PCE adolescents, subjective anxiety ratings correlated inversely with activations in the orbitofrontal cortex and brainstem during the stress condition and with ACC, dorsolateral PFC, and hippocampus activity during the neutral-relaxing condition. Thus adolescents with PCE display hypoactivation of brain regions involved in appetitive processing, with subjective intensities of craving and anxiety correlating inversely with extent of activation. These findings suggest possible mechanisms by which PCE might predispose to the development of addictions and related disorders, eg, substance-use disorders and binge-eating.
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