Cocaine is pharmacologically active in the nonhuman primate fetal brain

Helene Benveniste, Joanna S. Fowler, William D. Rooney, Bruce A. Scharf, W. Walter Backus, Igor Izrailtyan, Gitte M. Knudsen, Steen G. Hasselbalch, Nora D. Volkow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Cocaine use during pregnancy is deleterious to the newborn child, in part via its disruption of placental blood flow. However, the extent to which cocaine can affect the function of the fetal primate brain is still an unresolved question. Here we used PET and MRI and show that in third-trimester pregnant nonhuman primates, cocaine at doses typically used by drug abusers significantly increased brain glucose metabolism to the same extent in the mother as in the fetus (∼100%). In as much as brain glucose metabolism is a sensitive marker of brain function, the current findings provide evidence that cocaine use by a pregnant mother will also affect the function of the fetal brain. We are also unique in showing that cocaine's effects in brain glucose metabolism differed in pregnant (increased) and nonpregnant (decreased) animals, which suggests that the psychoactive effects of cocaine are influenced by the state of pregnancy. Our findings have clinical implications because they imply that the adverse effects of prenatal cocaine exposure to the newborn child include not only cocaine's deleterious effects to the placental circulation, but also cocaine's direct pharmacological effect to the developing fetal brain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1582-1587
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number4
StatePublished - 26 Jan 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Brain function
  • Imaging
  • In utero
  • In vivo
  • Pregnancy


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