• Methamphetamine during Pregnancy

    As of 2006 (the latest data available), 25 percent of pregnant women entering drug treatment reported methamphetamine as her primary drug of abuse. This is compared with 8 percent in 1994. Given the steady upward trend use may be even higher today.

    These data underestimate the prevalence of this problem for several reasons: the majority of drug users do not enter treatment, and methamphetamine has become more widely available since 2006. Yet little is known about how methamphetamine affects brain development.

    The lab investigates how methamphetamine affects brain development, finding that it results in enduring learning and memory impairments. We also investigate what treatments might be developed to ameliorate such deficits. 

    To do this we expose laboratory rats to methamphetamine during selected stages of brain development. During exposure, methamphetamine causes ACTH release from the anterior pituitary and corticosterone release from the adrenals, and reductions in brain 5-HT. After exposure ends, methamphetamine results in long-term dopamine reductions, alters dopamine D1 receptor function and changes dopamine utilization.

    More recently we found evidence that developmental methamphetamine exposure causes changes to dopamine D1, D2, and NMDA receptors. We are currently testing several hypotheses about the mechanisms of methamphetamine’s effects on brain development, including whether the drug induces reactive oxygen species (ROS) that may damage neuronal membranes, or cause overstimulation of dopamine receptors. We are measuring markers of ROS during and shortly after drug exposure and whether ROS scavenging drugs (spin-trapping agents) can block the adverse effects of early methamphetamine exposure.