Prenatal methamphetamine exposure (PME) is a significant problem in several parts of the world and poses important health risks for the developing fetus. Research on the short- and long-term outcomes of PME is scarce, however. Here, we summarize present knowledge on the cognitive and behavioral outcomes of PME, based on a review of the neuroimaging, neuropsychology, and neuroscience literature published in the past 15 years. Several studies have reported that the behavioral and cognitive sequelae of PME include broad deficits in the domains of attention, memory, and visual-motor integration. Knowledge regarding brain-behavior relationships is poor, however, in large part because imaging studies are rare. Hence, the effects of PME on developing neurocircuitry and brain architecture remain speculative, and are largely deductive. Some studies have implicated the dopamine-rich fronto-striatal pathways; however, cognitive deficits (e.g., impaired visual-motor integration) that should be associated with damage to those pathways are not manifested consistently across studies. We conclude by discussing challenges endemic to research on prenatal drug exposure, and argue that they may account for some of the inconsistencies in the extant research on PME. Studies confirming predicted brain-behavior relationships in PME, and exploring possible mechanisms underlying those relationships, are needed if neuroscience is to address the urgency of this growing public health problem.
- Brain Development
- Prenatal exposure