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1.  Prenatal Exposure to Air Pollution, Maternal Psychological Distress, and Child Behavior 
Pediatrics  2013;132(5):e1284-e1294.
Airborne polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are pollutants generated by combustion of fossil fuel and other organic material. Both prenatal PAH exposure and maternal psychological distress during pregnancy have each been associated with neurodevelopmental problems in children. The goal was to evaluate potential interactions between prenatal exposure to airborne PAHs and maternal psychological distress during pregnancy on subsequent behavioral problems in children.
In a longitudinal birth cohort study, 248 children of nonsmoking white women in the coal-burning region of Krakow, Poland, were followed from in utero until age 9. Prenatal PAH exposure was measured by personal air monitoring during pregnancy, maternal demoralization during pregnancy by the Psychiatric Epidemiology Research Instrument–Demoralization, and child behavior by the Child Behavior Checklist.
Significant interactions between maternal demoralization and PAH exposure (high versus low) were identified for symptoms of anxious/depressed, withdrawn/depressed, social problems, aggressive behavior, internalizing problems, and externalizing problems. The effects of demoralization on syndromes of anxious/depressed, withdrawn/depressed, rule-breaking, aggressive behavior, and the composite internalizing and externalizing scores were seen only in conjunction with high PAH exposure. Fewer significant effects with weaker effect sizes were observed in the low-PAH-exposure group.
Maternal demoralization during pregnancy appears to have a greater effect on child neurobehavioral development among children who experienced high prenatal PAH exposure. The results provide the first evidence of an interaction between prenatal exposure to maternal demoralization and air pollution on child neurobehavioral development, indicating the need for a multifaceted approach to the prevention of developmental problems in children.
PMCID: PMC3813389  PMID: 24101766
prenatal; PAH; air pollution; child behavior; maternal psychological distress; demoralization
2.  Neurobehavioral and Developmental Traiectories Associated with Level of Prenatal Cocaine Exposure 
In experimental models, prenatal cocaine exposure has been found to perturb GABA and dopamine development. Clinically, abnormalities in tone, posture and state regulation are noted in early infancy but the evolution of these findings over time is not well described. The current study assesses the longitudinal effects of prenatal cocaine exposure in dose-dependent fashion on developmental & behavioral and neurological trajectories over the first 2 years of life.
Three hundred and eighty infants, 113 cocaine-exposed, were enrolled at birth from an urban hospital from 2000 to 2004. Exposure was determined by maternal interview, segmental hair analyses (RIAH™) in all, and meconium and urine in a subset. Developmental, behavioral and neurological assessments were carried out blind to drug exposure at 6, 12 and 24 months of age in the 306 children who returned in follow-up. Mixed-effects linear modeling (developmental growth curve) assessed change in outcome over time.
The mental developmental growth curve showed a negative slope (2.2 points) in adjusted analyses among cocaine-exposed children over the first 2 years of life. (p=.04), while the slope of the motor development growth curve did not. Adjusting for microcephaly at 6 months diminished the strength of the association between cocaine exposure and mental developmental growth curve (effect modification). Cocaine exposure was marginally associated with behavioral outcomes in adjusted analyses. Total Behavior scores and Orientation/Engagement scores improved with age. At 1 year of age, prenatal cocaine exposure was significantly associated with lower motor development scores. High rates of hypertonia (global and diparesis) identified at the 6-month visit dropped dramatically in the first 2 years of life: cocaine-exposed children showed a more rapid rate of resolution of hypertonia than unexposed children, with hypertonia improving 2.2 times faster among those with heavy cocaine exposure.
We found differences in mental performance over the first 2 years of life associated with prenatal cocaine exposure that was mediated by microcephaly implying that cocaine exerts a sustained teratogenic effect on brain development. Early neurological (hypertonia) and behavioral findings associated with prenatal cocaine exposure improved over time. Hypertonia did not predict long-term development impairments. Conceivably, the transient nature of neurobehavioral manifestations reflects postnatally a tendency towards homeostasis of cocaine-related embryopathic perturbations of GABA and dopaminergic systems.
PMCID: PMC4318507  PMID: 25664330
Perinatal; Cocaine exposure; Behavior; Drug use; Hypertonia; Neurologic; Child development
3.  Prenatal Substance Exposure: Neurobiological Organization at One Month 
The Journal of pediatrics  2013;163(4):989-994.e1.
To examine the autonomic nervous system and neurobehavioral response to a sustained visual attention challenge among 1-month old infants with prenatal substance exposure.
Study design
We measured heart rate (HR), respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), and neurobehavior during sustained visual orientation tasks included in the NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale (NNNS) in 1,129, 1-month infants with prenatal substance exposure. Four groups were compared: infants with prenatal cocaine and opiate exposure, infants with cocaine exposure, infants with opiate exposure, and infants with exposure to other substances (i.e. alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco).
Infants with prenatal cocaine and opiate exposure had the highest HRs and lowest levels of RSA during a sustained visual attention procedure compared with the other three groups. Infants with prenatal cocaine and opiate exposure had poorer quality of movement and more hypertonicity during the NNNS exam compared with the other three exposure groups. Infants with prenatal cocaine and opiate exposure had more nonoptimal reflexes and stress/abstinence signs compared with infants with prenatal cocaine exposure only and infants with prenatal exposure to alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana.
Problems with arousal regulation were identified among infants with prenatal substance exposure. Autonomic dysregulation has been implicated as a mechanism by which these difficulties occur. Our results suggest that infants with both prenatal cocaine and opiate exposure have the greatest autonomic response to the challenge of a sustained visual attention task, which may place these infants at risk for developing problems associated with physiological and behavioral regulation, a necessary prerequisite for early learning.
PMCID: PMC3773295  PMID: 23743094
in utero drug exposure; physiology; neurobehavioral
4.  Neurobehavioral Disinhibition Predicts Initiation of Substance Use in Children with Prenatal Cocaine Exposure 
Drug and alcohol dependence  2012;126(1-2):80-86.
In previous work we (Fisher et al., 2011) examined the emergence of neurobehavioral disinhibition (ND) in adolescents with prenatal substance exposure. We computed ND factor scores at three age points (8/9, 11 and 13/14 years) and found that both prenatal substance exposure and early adversity predicted ND. The purpose of the current study was to determine the association between these ND scores and initiation of substance use between ages 8–16 in this cohort as early initiation of substance use has been related to later substance use disorders. Our hypothesis was that prenatal cocaine exposure predisposes the child to ND, which, in turn, is associated with initiation of substance use by age 16.
We studied 386 cocaine exposed and 517 unexposed children followed since birth in a longitudinal study. Five dichotomous variables were computed based on the subject’s report of substance use: alcohol only; tobacco only; marijuana only; illicit substances and any substance.
Cox proportional hazard regression showed that the 8/9 year ND score was related to initiation of alcohol, tobacco, illicit and any substance use but not marijuana use. The trajectory of ND across the three age periods was related to substance use initiation in all five substance use categories. Prenatal cocaine exposure, although initially related to tobacco, marijuana and illicit substance initiation, was no longer significant with ND scores in the models.
Prenatal drug exposure appears to be a risk pathway to ND, which by 8/9 years portends substance use initiation.
PMCID: PMC3439586  PMID: 22608010
neurodevelopmental disinhibition; substance use initiation; prenatal cocaine exposure
5.  Preadolescent behavior problems after prenatal cocaine exposure: Relationship between teacher and caretaker ratings (Maternal Lifestyle Study) 
Neurotoxicology and teratology  2010;33(1):78-87.
We previously reported an association between prenatal cocaine exposure (PCE) and childhood behavior problems as observed by the parent or caretaker. However, these behavior problems may not manifest in a structured environment, such as a school setting.
We determined whether there is an association between PCE and school behavior problems and whether ratings of behavior problems from the teacher differ from those noted by the parent or caretaker.
The Maternal Lifestyle Study, a multicenter study, enrolled 1388 children with and without PCE at one month of age for longitudinal assessment. Teachers masked to prenatal drug exposure status completed the Teacher Report Form (TRF/6-18) when children were 7, 9, and 11 years old. We also administered the Child Behavior Checklist-parent report (CBCL) to the parent/caretaker at same ages and then at 13 years. We performed latent growth curve modeling to determine whether high PCE will predict externalizing, internalizing, total behavior, and attention problems at 7 years of age and whether changes in problems' scores over time differ between those exposed and non-exposed from both teacher and parent report. Besides levels of PCE as predictors, we controlled for the following covariates, namely: site, child characteristics (gender and other prenatal drug exposures), family level influences (maternal age, depression and psychological symptomatology, continuing drug use, exposure to domestic violence, home environment, and socioeconomic status), and community level factors (neighborhood and community violence).
The mean behavior problem T scores from the teacher report were significantly higher than ratings by the parent or caretaker. Latent growth curve modeling revealed a significant relationship between intercepts of problem T scores from teacher and parent ratings; i.e., children that were rated poorly by teachers were also rated poorly by their parent/caretaker or vice versa. After controlling for covariates, we found high PCE to be a significant predictor of with higher externalizing behavior problem T scores from both parent and teacher report at 7 years (p=0.034 and p=0.021, respectively) in comparison to non-PCE children. These differences in scores from either teacher or caregiver were stable through subsequent years or did not change significantly over time. Boys had higher T scores than girls on internalizing and total problems by caretaker report; they also had significantly higher T scores for internalizing, total, and attention problems by teacher ratings; the difference was marginally significant for externalizing behavior (p=0.070). Caretaker postnatal use of tobacco, depression, and community violence were significant predictors of all behavior problems rated by parent/caretaker, while lower scores on the home environment predicted all behavior outcomes by the teacher report.
Children with high PCE are likely to manifest externalizing behavior problems; their behavior problem scores at 7 years from either report of teacher or parent remained higher than scores of non-exposed children on subsequent years. Screening and identification of behavior problems at earlier ages could make possible initiation of intervention, while considering the likely effects of other confounders.
PMCID: PMC3011027  PMID: 20600844
6.  Protective Factors Can Mitigate Behavior Problems After Prenatal Cocaine and Other Drug Exposures 
Pediatrics  2012;130(6):e1479-e1488.
We determined the role of risk and protective factors on the trajectories of behavior problems associated with high prenatal cocaine exposure (PCE)/polydrug exposure.
The Maternal Lifestyle Study enrolled 1388 children with or without PCE, assessed through age 15 years. Because most women using cocaine during pregnancy also used other substances, we analyzed for the effects of 4 categories of prenatal drug exposure: high PCE/other drugs (OD), some PCE/OD, OD/no PCE, and no PCE/no OD. Risks and protective factors at individual, family, and community levels that may be associated with behavior outcomes were entered stepwise into latent growth curve models, then replaced by cumulative risk and protective indexes, and finally by a combination of levels of risk and protective indexes. Main outcome measures were the trajectories of externalizing, internalizing, total behavior, and attention problems scores from the Child Behavior Checklist (parent).
A total of 1022 (73.6%) children had known outcomes. High PCE/OD significantly predicted externalizing, total, and attention problems when considering the balance between risk and protective indexes. Some PCE/OD predicted externalizing and attention problems. OD/no PCE also predicted behavior outcomes except for internalizing behavior. High level of protective factors was associated with declining trajectories of problem behavior scores over time, independent of drug exposure and risk index scores.
High PCE/OD is a significant risk for behavior problems in adolescence; protective factors may attenuate its detrimental effects. Clinical practice and public health policies should consider enhancing protective factors while minimizing risks to improve outcomes of drug-exposed children.
PMCID: PMC3507246  PMID: 23184114
behavior problems; cumulative risks; prenatal cocaine exposure; protective factors
7.  The Combined Effects of Prenatal Drug Exposure and Early Adversity on Neurobehavioral Disinhibition in Childhood and Adolescence 
Development and Psychopathology  2011;23(3):777-788.
The negative effects of prenatal substance exposure on neurobiological and psychological development and of early adversity are clear, but little is known about their combined effects. In this study, multilevel analyses of the effects of prenatal substance exposure and early adversity on the emergence of neurobehavioral disinhibition in adolescence were conducted. Neurobehavioral disinhibition has previously been observed to occur frequently in multiproblem youth from high-risk backgrounds. In the present study, neurobehavioral disinhibition was assessed via behavioral dysregulation and poor executive function composite measures. Data were drawn from a prospective longitudinal investigation of prenatal substance exposure that included 1073 participants followed from birth through adolescence. The results from latent growth modeling analyses showed mean stability but significant individual differences in behavioral dysregulation and mean decline with individual differences in executive function difficulties. Prior behavioral dysregulation predicted increased executive function difficulties. Prenatal drug use predicted the emergence and growth in neurobehavioral disinhibition across adolescence (directly for behavioral dysregulation and indirectly for executive function difficulties via early adversity and behavioral dysregulation). Prenatal drug use and early adversity exhibited unique effects on growth in behavioral dysregulation; early adversity uniquely predicted executive function difficulties. These results are discussed in terms of implications for theory development, social policy, and prevention science.
PMCID: PMC3335443  PMID: 21756431
8.  Prenatal Cocaine Exposures and Dose-Related Cocaine Effects on Infant Tone and Behavior 
Neurotoxicology and teratology  2006;29(3):323-330.
In experimental models, prenatal cocaine exposure has been found to perturb monoaminergic development. In humans, numerous studies have sought clinical correlates, but few have focused on dose-related effects, especially as regards neurologic function beyond the neonatal period.
To assess whether prenatal cocaine exposure has adverse effects on infant neurologic, developmental and behavioral outcomes and whether any effects are dose-dependent.
Infants (398) were enrolled at birth from an urban hospital. Drug exposure was ascertained with biomarkers in hair (n=395), urine (n=170) and meconium (n=109). Children were followed prospectively and 286 (72%) were evaluated blind to drug exposure at 6 months of age with the Bayley scales, Fagan Scale of Infant Intelligence and a standardized neurological examination.
Certain neurological findings increased significantly by the amount of cocaine detected in maternal hair, e.g. abnormality of tone, as indicated by extensor posture was detected among 28% of cocaine-unexposed infants, 43% of infants exposed to lower and 48% exposed to higher cocaine levels in maternal hair (p<0.009). Persistent fisting increased in a similar dose-dependent manner. These associations persisted in adjusted analyses. Prenatal cocaine exposure was not associated with developmental scores (mental, motor or novelty preference) but was associated with lower orientation scores in adjusted analyses.
At 6 months of age, prenatal cocaine exposure was associated with abnormalities of tone and posture and with lower orientation scores. Perturbations in monoaminergic systems by cocaine exposure during fetal development may explain the observed neurological and behavioral symptoms. Whether such findings in infancy increase the risk of later neurobehavioral problems requires further study.
PMCID: PMC4307783  PMID: 17234383
perinatal; cocaine exposure; drug use; hypertonia; child development
9.  Child behavior problems among cocaine-exposed toddlers: Indirect and interactive effects 
Development and psychopathology  2011;23(2):539-550.
This study examined the role of maternal psychopathology and maternal warmth as mediators of the association between prenatal cocaine and other substance exposure and toddler behavior problems. It was also hypothesized that infant cortisol reactivity and environmental risk may moderate these associations. Participants were 220 caregiver–infant dyads (119 cocaine exposed, 101 not cocaine exposed; 49% boys). Mother–infant dyads were recruited at delivery with assessments at 4–8 weeks and 7, 13, and 18 months of child ages. Results yielded no direct associations between prenatal cocaine/other substance exposure and toddler behavior problems, but significant indirect associations between prenatal cigarette/alcohol exposure and toddler behavior problems at 18 months. With regard to moderation, results indicated an indirect association between prenatal cocaine exposure and toddler behavior problems via lower maternal warmth for children with higher, but not lower, cortisol reactivity at 7 months. Results suggest potential pathways to toddler behavior problems among children at high biological risk.
PMCID: PMC3695418  PMID: 23786694
10.  Effects of Prenatal Cigarette Smoke Exposure on Neurobehavioral Outcomes in Ten-Year-Old Children of Teenage Mothers 
Neurotoxicology and teratology  2011;33(1):137-144.
In this prospective study, teenager mothers (mean age = 16; range = 12–18; 70% African American) were interviewed about their tobacco use during pregnancy. When their children were ten, mothers reported on their child’s behavior and the children completed a neuropsychological battery. We examined the association between prenatal cigarette smoke exposure (PCSE) and offspring neurobehavioral outcomes on data from the ten-year phase (n = 336). Multivariate regression analyses were conducted to test if PCSE predicted neurobehavioral outcomes, adjusting for demographic characteristics, maternal psychological characteristics, prenatal exposure to other substances, and exposure to environmental tobacco smoke. Independent effects of PCSE were found. Exposed offspring had more delinquent, aggressive and externalizing behaviors (CBCL). They were more active (Routh, EAS, SNAP) and impulsive (SNAP), and had more problems with peers (SNAP). On the Stroop test, deficits were observed in both baseline response processing measures and on the more complex interference task that requires both selective attention and response inhibition. The significant effects of PCSE on neurobehavioral outcomes were found for exposure to as few as 10 cigarettes per day. These results are consistent with results from an earlier assessment when the children were age 6, demonstrating that the effects of prenatal tobacco exposure can be identified early and are consistent through middle childhood.
PMCID: PMC3058878  PMID: 21256428
prenatal smoking; neurobehavioral; teenage mothers; children
11.  Prenatal Phthalate Exposures and Neurobehavioral Development Scores in Boys and Girls at 6–10 Years of Age 
Environmental Health Perspectives  2014;122(5):521-528.
Background: There is concern over potential neurobehavioral effects of prenatal phthalate exposures, but available data are inconsistent.
Objectives: We examined associations between prenatal urinary concentrations of phthalate metabolites and neurobehavioral scores among children.
Methods: We measured phthalate metabolite concentrations in urine samples from 153 pregnant participants in the Study for Future Families, a multicenter cohort study. Mothers completed the Child Behavior Checklist when the children were 6–10 years of age. We estimated overall and sex-specific associations between phthalate concentrations and behavior using adjusted multiple regression interaction models.
Results: In boys, concentrations of monoisobutyl phthalate were associated with higher scores for inattention (β = 0.27; 95% CI: 0.04, 0.50), rule-breaking behavior (β = 0.20; 95% CI: 0.01, 0.38), aggression (β = 0.34; 95% CI: 0.09, 0.59), and conduct problems (β = 0.39; 95% CI: 0.20, 0.58), whereas the molar sum of di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate metabolites was associated with higher scores for somatic problems (β = 0.15; 95% CI: 0.03, 0.28). Higher monobenzyl phthalate concentrations were associated with higher scores for oppositional behavior (β = 0.16; 95% CI: 0.01, 0.32) and conduct problems (β = 0.21; 95% CI: 0.06, 0.37) in boys, but with reduced anxiety scores in girls (β = –0.20; 95% CI: –0.39, –0.01). In general, the associations reported above were close to the null among girls. Model coefficients represent the difference in the square root–transformed outcome score associated with a 1-unit increase in log-transformed metabolites.
Conclusions: Our results suggest associations between exposure to certain phthalates in late pregnancy and behavioral problems in boys. Given the few studies on this topic and methodological and population differences among studies, additional research is warranted.
Citation: Kobrosly RW, Evans S, Miodovnik A, Barrett ES, Thurston SW, Calafat AM, Swan SH. 2014. Prenatal phthalate exposures and neurobehavioral development scores in boys and girls at 6–10 years of age. Environ Health Perspect 122:521–528;
PMCID: PMC4014764  PMID: 24577876
12.  Prenatal cocaine exposure: An examination of childhood externalizing and internalizing behavior problems at age 7 years 
This study examines the relationship between prenatal cocaine exposure and parent-reported child behavior problems at age 7 years.
Data are from 407 African-American children (210 cocaine-exposed, 197 non-cocaine-exposed) enrolled prospectively at birth in a longitudinal study on the neurodevelopmental consequences of in utero exposure to cocaine. Prenatal cocaine exposure was assessed at delivery through maternal self-report and bioassays (maternal and infant urine and infant meconium). The Achenbach Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL), a measure of childhood externalizing and internalizing behavior problems, was completed by the child’s current primary caregiver during an assessment visit scheduled when the child was seven years old.
Structural equation and GLM/GEE models disclosed no association linking prenatal cocaine exposure status or level of cocaine exposure to child behavior (CBCL Externalizing and Internalizing scores or the eight CBCL sub-scale scores).
This evidence, based on standardized ratings by the current primary caregiver, fails to support hypothesized cocaine-associated behavioral problems in school-aged children with in utero cocaine exposure. A next step in this line of research is to secure standardized ratings from other informants (e.g., teachers, youth self-report).
PMCID: PMC2641031  PMID: 16584100
cocaine; prenatal exposure; child behavior
13.  Prenatal Methamphetamine Exposure and Childhood Behavior Problems at 3 and 5 Years of Age 
Pediatrics  2012;129(4):681-688.
We evaluated behavior problems in children who were prenatally exposed to methamphetamine (MA) at ages 3 and 5 years.
The Infant Development, Environment, and Lifestyle study, a prospective, longitudinal study of prenatal MA exposure and child outcome, enrolled subjects postpartum in Los Angeles, California; Honolulu, Hawaii; Des Moines, Iowa; and Tulsa, Oklahoma. Prenatal exposure was determined by maternal self-report and/or meconium results. Exposed and comparison groups were matched on race, birth weight, public health insurance, and education. Mothers in the comparison group denied use and had a negative meconium screen for amphetamines. Prenatal exposures to tobacco, alcohol, or marijuana occurred in both groups. At ages 3 and 5 years, 330 children (166 exposed and 164 comparison) were assessed for behavior problems by using the caregiver report on the Child Behavior Checklist. General linear mixed models were used to determine the effects of prenatal MA exposure, including heavy exposure (≥3 days per week), age, and the interaction of exposure and age on behavior problems with adjustment for other drugs of abuse and environmental risk factors.
MA exposure was associated with increased emotional reactivity and anxious/depressed problems at both ages and externalizing and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder problems by age 5 years. Heavy exposure was related to attention problems and withdrawn behavior at both ages. There were no effects of MA on the internalizing or total behavior problems scales.
This first report of behavior problems in patients as young as 3 years associated with MA exposure identifies an important public health problem. Continued follow-up can inform the development of preventive intervention programs.
PMCID: PMC3313637  PMID: 22430455
amphetamines; behavior disorders/problems; children; methamphetamine; prenatal exposure
14.  Effect of Prenatal Exposure to Airborne Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons on Neurodevelopment in the First 3 Years of Life among Inner-City Children 
Environmental Health Perspectives  2006;114(8):1287-1292.
Our prospective cohort study of nonsmoking African-American and Dominican mothers and children in New York City is evaluating the role of prenatal exposure to urban pollutants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), and pesticides, in the pathogenesis of neurobehavioral disorders. We used the Bayley Scales of Infant Development to evaluate the effects on child mental and psychomotor development of prenatal exposure to airborne PAHs monitored during pregnancy by personal air sampling. Behavioral development was assessed by the Child Behavior Checklist. We adjusted for potential confounders including sociodemographic factors and prenatal exposure to ETS and chlorpyrifos. Prenatal exposure to PAHs was not associated with psychomotor development index or behavioral problems. However, high prenatal exposure to PAHs (upper quartile) was associated with lower mental development index at age 3 [β= –5.69; 95% confidence interval (CI), –9.05 to –2.33; p < 0.01]. The odds of cognitive developmental delay were also significantly greater for children with high prenatal exposure (odds ratio = 2.89; 95% CI, 1.33 to 6.25; p = 0.01). General estimated equation analysis showed a significant age × PAH effect on mental development (p = 0.01), confirming the age-specific regression findings. Further adjustment for lead did not alter the relationships. There were no differences in effect sizes by ethnicity. The results require confirmation but suggest that environmental PAHs at levels recently encountered in New York City air may adversely affect children’s cognitive development at 3 years of age, with implications for school performance.
PMCID: PMC1551985  PMID: 16882541
air pollution; neurodevelopment; polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; prenatal
15.  Serial Pediatric Symptom Checklist Screening in Children with Prenatal Drug Exposure 
To examine screening results obtained by serial annual behavioral assessment of children with prenatal drug exposure.
The Maternal Lifestyle Study enrolled children with prenatal cocaine exposure (PCE) at birth for longitudinal assessments of developmental, behavioral, and health outcomes. At 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 years of age, caregivers rated participants on the Pediatric Symptom Checklist (PSC). Serial PSC results were compared to an established broad-based behavioral measure at 9, 11, and 13 years. PSC results were analyzed for 1,081 children who had at least 2 annual screens during the 5-year time span. Most subjects (87%) had 4 or more annual screens rated by the same caregiver (80%). PSC scores (and Positive screens) over time were compared at different time points for those with and without PCE. Covariates, including demographic factors and exposures to certain other substances, were controlled.
Children with PCE had significantly higher scores overall, with more Positive screens for behavior problems than children without PCE. Children with PCE had more externalizing behavior problems. Children exposed to tobacco pre- and post-natally also showed higher PSC scores. Over time, PSC scores differed slightly from the 8-year scores, without clear directional trend. Earlier PSC results predicted later behavioral outcomes.
Findings of increased total PSC scores and Positive PSC screens for behavioral concerns in this group of children with prenatal substance exposure support the growing body of evidence that additional attention to identification of mental health problems may be warranted in this high-risk group.
PMCID: PMC3069136  PMID: 21200328
Behavior disorder; child behavior; mental health; screening; prenatal cocaine exposure; Pediatric Symptom Checklist
16.  Comparing attitudes about legal sanctions and teratogenic effects for cocaine, alcohol, tobacco and caffeine: A randomized, independent samples design 
Establishing more sensible measures to treat cocaine-addicted mothers and their children is essential for improving U.S. drug policy. Favorable post-natal environments have moderated potential deleterious prenatal effects. However, since cocaine is an illicit substance having long been demonized, we hypothesized that attitudes toward prenatal cocaine exposure would be more negative than for licit substances, alcohol, nicotine and caffeine. Further, media portrayals about long-term outcomes were hypothesized to influence viewers' attitudes, measured immediately post-viewing. Reducing popular crack baby stigmas could influence future policy decisions by legislators.
In Study 1, 336 participants were randomly assigned to 1 of 4 conditions describing hypothetical legal sanction scenarios for pregnant women using cocaine, alcohol, nicotine or caffeine. Participants rated legal sanctions against pregnant women who used one of these substances and risk potential for developing children.
In Study 2, 139 participants were randomly assigned to positive, neutral and negative media conditions. Immediately post-viewing, participants rated prenatal cocaine-exposed or non-exposed teens for their academic performance and risk for problems at age18.
Participants in Study 1 imposed significantly greater legal sanctions for cocaine, perceiving prenatal cocaine exposure as more harmful than alcohol, nicotine or caffeine. A one-way ANOVA for independent samples showed significant differences, beyond .0001. Post-hoc Sheffe test illustrated that cocaine was rated differently from other substances.
In Study 2, a one-way ANOVA for independent samples was performed on difference scores for the positive, neutral or negative media conditions about prenatal cocaine exposure. Participants in the neutral and negative media conditions estimated significantly lower grade point averages and more problems for the teen with prenatal cocaine exposure than for the non-exposed teen beyond .0001 alpha level. The positive media program closed estimated grade point average differences and risks of later problems to a non-statistically significant margin, p >.05.
Ratings for prenatal cocaine were more negative than comparable ratings for alcohol, nicotine or caffeine exposure. Stereotypes can be reduced, showing viewers that positive postnatal environments ameliorate potential teratogenic effects of cocaine. Reducing negative stereotypes for crack babies may be a requisite for substantive changes in current policy.
PMCID: PMC1435999  PMID: 16722564
17.  Predicting Caregiver-Reported Behavior Problems in Cocaine-Exposed Children at 3 Years 
Predictors of caregiver-reported behavior problems for 3-year-olds with prenatal cocaine exposure (PCE) and matched controls were examined using structural equation modeling. We tested whether PCE had a direct effect on child behavior problems in a model that included other prenatal drug exposure, child sex, caregiver depression, and the quality of the child’s home environment. The sample (N = 256) was drawn from a longitudinal, prospective study of children of (predominantly crack) cocaine-using women and controls matched on race, socioeconomic status, parity, and pregnancy risk. Child Behavior Problems was modeled as a latent variable composed of the 48-item Conners’ Parent Report Scale Conduct Problem and Impulsive-Hyperactive scales and the Eyberg Child Behavior Inventory Intensity scale. Caregiver depression was the only significant predictor of Child Behavior Problems. Mean levels of caregiver self-reported depression and reported child behavior problems did not differ between groups. Mean depression scores were well above the recommended clinical cutoff while mean child behavior problems scores were within normal limits. The model explained 21% of the variance in caregiver-reported child behavior problems in our sample of rural African American, low SES youngsters. Non-maternal caregivers of cocaine-exposed children had significantly lower mean depression scores and mean child behavior problems ratings for 2 of 3 scales used in the study compared to biological mothers of children with PCE and controls. For all groups, much larger proportions of children were rated as having clinically significant behavior problems than would be expected based on the prevalence of behavior problems in the general population.
PMCID: PMC3150578  PMID: 16682870
18.  Continued Effects of Prenatal Cocaine Use 
Neurotoxicology and teratology  2009;31(6):325-333.
The relationship between prenatal cocaine use and preschooler’s physical and cognitive development and behavioral characteristics was examined, controlling for other influences on child development. On average, children were 38.5 months old, women were 29.4 years old, had 12.3 years of education, and 47% were African American. During the first trimester, 18% of the women were frequent cocaine users (≥ 1 line/day). First trimester cocaine exposure predicted decreased head circumference at 3 years and lower scores on the short-term memory subscale of the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale (SBIS) [74]. There was no significant relationship between prenatal cocaine use and the other SBIS scales. First trimester cocaine use also predicted more total, internalizing, and externalizing behavior problems on the Child Behavior Checklist [3] and higher scores on the fussy/difficult scale of the Infant Characteristics Questionnaire [6]. Children who were exposed to cocaine throughout pregnancy had more behavior problems and were more fussy compared to children of women who never used cocaine prenatally. A repeated measures analysis showed that children of first trimester cocaine users became more fussy over time. These detrimental effects on growth and behavior are consistent with other reports in the literature and with the hypothesis that prenatal cocaine exposure affects development through changes in neurotransmitter systems.
PMCID: PMC2765398  PMID: 19695324
prenatal cocaine exposure; preschool age; growth; cognitive development; temperament; behavior problems
19.  Level of Prenatal Cocaine Exposure and Scores on the Bayley Scales of Infant Development: Modifying Effects of Caregiver, Early Intervention, and Birth Weight 
Pediatrics  2002;110(6):1143-1152.
The objectives of this study were 1) to assess whether there is an independent association between the level of prenatal cocaine exposure and infants’ developmental test scores after control of potential confounding variables; and 2) if such an association exists, to determine which biological and social variables, individually and in interaction with each other, may modify it.
In a prospective, longitudinal study of 203 urban term infants, 3 cocaine exposure groups were defined by maternal report and infant meconium assay: unexposed, heavier cocaine exposure (> 75th percentile self-reported days of use or meconium benzoylecognine concentration), or lighter cocaine exposure (all others). Examiners, masked to exposure history, tested infants at 6, 12, and 24 months of age with the Bayley Scales of Infant Development.
The final mixed linear regression model included as fixed covariates level of prenatal exposure to cocaine, alcohol, and cigarettes; prenatal marijuana exposure; gestational age and birth weight z score for gestational age; and gender. Age at test, caregiver at time of each test (biological mother, kinship caregiver, unrelated foster caregiver), and any previous child-focused early intervention were included as time-dependent covariates. There were no significant adverse main effects of level of cocaine exposure on Mental Development Index (MDI), Psychomotor Development Index (PDI), or Infant Behavior Record. Child-focused early intervention interacted with level of cocaine exposure such that heavily exposed children who received such intervention showed higher adjusted mean MDI scores than all other groups. Although the sample was born at or near term, there was also a significant interaction of cocaine exposure and gestational age on MDI scores, with those in the heavier exposure group born at slightly lower gestational age having higher mean MDI scores compared with other children born at that gestational age.
There was also a significant interaction on MDI between child’s age and caregiver. At 6 months, the adjusted MDI of children living with a kinship caregiver was 15.5 points lower than that of children living with their biological mother, but this effect was diminished and was no longer significant at 24 months (difference in means: 4.3 points). The adjusted mean MDI of children in unrelated foster care at 6 months was 8.2 points lower than children of biological mothers, whereas it was 7.3 points higher at 24 months.
Early intervention attenuated the age-related decline in PDI scores for all groups. Birth weight < 10th percentile was associated with lower PDI scores for children with heavier cocaine exposure and with lower MDI scores for all groups.
Heavier prenatal cocaine exposure is not an independent risk factor for depressed scores on the Bayley Scales of Infant Development up to 24 months of age when term infants are compared with lighter exposed or unexposed infants of the same demographic background. Cocaine-exposed infants with birth weight below the 10th percentile for gestational age and gender and those placed with kinship caregivers are at increased risk for less optimal developmental outcomes. Pediatric clinicians should refer cocaine-exposed children to the child-focused developmental interventions available for all children at developmental risk.
PMCID: PMC2366173  PMID: 12456912
cocaine; pregnancy; meconium; child development; early intervention; kinship care; foster care
20.  Psychopathology and Special Education Enrollment in Children with Prenatal Cocaine Exposure 
This study evaluated how enrollment in special education services in 11 year old children relates to prenatal cocaine exposure, psychopathology, and other risk factors.
Participants were 498 children enrolled in The Maternal Lifestyle Study, a prospective, longitudinal, multisite study examining outcomes of children with prenatal cocaine exposure. Logistic regression was used to examine the effect of prenatal cocaine exposure and psychopathology on enrollment in an individualized education plan (a designation specific to children with special education needs), with environmental, maternal, and infant medical variables as covariates.
Prenatal cocaine exposure, an interaction of prenatal cocaine exposure and Oppositional Defiant Disorder, child Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, parent-reported internalizing behaviors, and teacher-reported externalizing behaviors, predicted enrollment in an individualized education plan. Other statistically significant variables in the model were male gender, low birth weight, being small for gestational age, white race, caregiver change, low socio-economic status, low child intelligence quotient, caregiver depression, and prenatal marijuana exposure.
Prenatal cocaine exposure increased the likelihood of receiving an individualized education plan with adjustment for covariates. Psychopathology also predicted this special education outcome, in combination with and independent of prenatal cocaine exposure.
PMCID: PMC3400535  PMID: 22487696
cocaine; special education; behavior; prenatal substance exposure
21.  Prenatal Methamphetamine Exposure, Home Environment, and Primary Caregiver Risk Factors Predict Child Behavioral Problems at 5 Years 
This study investigated the prospective association between prenatal methamphetamine (MA) exposure and child behavioral problems at 5 years while also examining the home environment at 30 months and several primary caregiver (PC) risk factors. Participants were 97 MA-exposed and 117 comparison children and their PCs enrolled in the Infant Development, Environment and Lifestyle Study. Hypotheses were that child behaviors would be adversely impacted by (a) prenatal MA exposure, (b) home environments that provided less developmental stimulation and emotional responsiveness to the child, and (c) the presence of PC psychological symptoms and other risk factors. Prenatal MA exposure was associated with child externalizing behavioral problems at 5 years. Home environments that were more conducive to meeting children’s developmental and emotional needs were associated with fewer internalizing and externalizing behavioral problems. Independent of prenatal MA exposure, PC parenting stress and psychological symptoms were associated with increased child behavioral problems. Findings suggest prenatal MA exposure may contribute to externalizing behavioral problems in early childhood and the importance of considering possible vulnerabilities related to prenatal MA exposure in the context of the child’s caregiving environment.
PMCID: PMC3721329  PMID: 23330624
infants; children; pregnant women; methamphetamine use; prenatal substance exposure; primary caregiver; caregiving environment; parenting stress
22.  The Effects of Prenatal Cocaine-Exposure on Problem Behavior in Children 4-10 Years 
Neurotoxicology and teratology  2010;32(4):443-451.
Children prenatally exposed to cocaine may be at increased risk for behavioral problems due to disruptions of monaminergically regulated arousal systems and/or environmental conditions.
To assess behavioral outcomes of cocaine (CE) and non-cocaine exposed (NCE) children, 4 through 10 years old, controlling for other prenatal drug exposures and environmental factors.
Low socioeconomic status (SES), primarily African-American children (n = 381 (193 (CE), 188 (NCE)) were recruited from birth. Generalized Estimating Equation (GEE) analyses were used to assess the predictive relationship of prenatal cocaine exposure to odds of caregiver reported clinically elevated behavioral problems at 4, 6, 9 and 10 years of age, controlling for confounders.
Prenatal cocaine exposure was associated with increased rates of caregiver reported delinquency (OR=1.93, CI: 1.09-3.42, p<.02). A significant prenatal cocaine exposure by sex interaction was found for delinquency indicating that only females were affected (OR=3.57, CI: 1.67-7.60, p<.001). There was no effect of cocaine on increased odds of other CBCL subscales. Higher prenatal tobacco exposure was associated with increased odds of externalizing symptoms at 4, 9 and 10 years of age. For CE children, those in foster or adoptive care were rated as having more behavior problems than those in biologic mother or relative care. Greater caregiver psychological distress was associated with increased behavioral problems. There were no independent effects of elevated blood lead level on increased behavior problems after control for prenatal drug exposure and other environmental conditions.
Prenatal cocaine and tobacco exposure were associated with greater externalizing behavior after control for multiple prenatal drug exposures, other environmental and caregiving factors and lead exposure from 4 through 10 years of age. Greater caregiver psychological distress negatively affected caregiver ratings of all CBCL domains. Since cocaine and tobacco use during pregnancy and maternal psychological distress have the potential to be altered through prenatal educational, drug treatment and and mental health interventions, they warrant attention in efforts to reduce rates of problem behaviors in children.
PMCID: PMC3586186  PMID: 20227491
behavior; delinquency; prenatal cocaine-exposure; lead exposure; longitudinal
23.  Prenatal Alcohol Exposure, ADHD, and Sluggish Cognitive Tempo 
Children with heavy prenatal alcohol exposure often meet criteria for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD research has examined subtype differences in symptomology, including sluggish cognitive tempo (SCT). This construct is defined by behavioral symptoms including, hypoactivity and daydreaming, and has been linked to increased internalizing behaviors. The current study examined if similar findings are displayed in children with prenatal alcohol exposure.
As part of a multisite study, caregivers of 272 children (8–16y) completed the SCT scale and Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). Four groups were included: alcohol-exposed children with ADHD (ALC+; n=75), alcohol-exposed children without ADHD (ALC−; n=35), non-exposed children with ADHD (ADHD; n=60), and non-exposed children without ADHD (CON; n=102). SCT and CBCL scores were analyzed using 2 (exposure) × 2 (ADHD) ANOVAs. Pearson correlations measured the relations between SCT, CBCL, and FSIQ. Discriminant function analysis (DFA) examined if SCT items could accurately classify groups.
Analyses revealed significant main effects of Exposure and ADHD on SCT, internalizing, and externalizing scores, and significant interaction effects on SCT and internalizing scores. SCT significantly correlated with internalizing, externalizing, and attention ratings in all groups and with FSIQ in ALC+. DFA indicated that specific SCT items could distinguish ALC− from CON.
Alcohol-exposed children exhibited elevated SCT scores. Elevations were related to increased parent ratings of internalizing and externalizing behaviors and attention. These findings occurred in alcohol-exposed children regardless of ADHD symptoms and specific SCT items proved useful in distinguishing exposed children suggesting clinical utility for this measure in further defining the neurobehavioral profile related to prenatal alcohol exposure.
PMCID: PMC3480974  PMID: 22817778
fetal alcohol spectrum disorder; fetal alcohol syndrome; attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder; sluggish cognitive tempo; neurobehavioral profile
24.  Neonatal Neurobehavior Predicts Medical and Behavioral Outcome 
Pediatrics  2009;125(1):e90-e98.
This study examined the NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale (NNNS) as a predictor of negative medical and behavioral findings one month to 4½ years of age.
. The sample included 1248 mother-infant dyads (42% born <37 weeks’ gestational age) participating in a longitudinal study of the effects of prenatal substance exposure on child development. Mothers were recruited at 4 urban university-based centers and were mostly African-American and on public assistance. At 1 month of age, infants were tested with the NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale (NNNS). Latent Profile Analysis (LPA) was carried out on NNNS summary scales to identify discrete behavioral profiles. The validity of the NNNS was examined using logistic regression to predict prenatal drug exposure, medical and developmental outcomes through 4½ years of age including adjustment for gestational age and socioeconomic status (SES).
. Five discrete behavioral profiles were reliably identified with the most extreme negative profile found in 5.8% of the infants. The profiles showed statistically significant associations with prenatal drug exposure, gestational age and birthweight, head ultrasound, neurological and brain disease findings and abnormal scores on measures of behavior problems, school readiness and IQ through 4½ years of age.
The NNNS may be useful to identify infant behavioral needs to be targeted in well-baby pediatric care, as well as for referrals to community based early intervention services.
PMCID: PMC2873896  PMID: 19969621
NNNS; neonatal assessment; neurobehavioral; developmental outcomes; in utero drug exposure; latent profile analysis
25.  A Mechanism for the Inhibition of Neural Progenitor Cell Proliferation by Cocaine 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(6):e117.
Prenatal exposure of the developing brain to cocaine causes morphological and behavioral abnormalities. Recent studies indicate that cocaine-induced proliferation inhibition and/or apoptosis in neural progenitor cells may play a pivotal role in causing these abnormalities. To understand the molecular mechanism through which cocaine inhibits cell proliferation in neural progenitors, we sought to identify the molecules that are responsible for mediating the effect of cocaine on cell cycle regulation.
Methods and Findings
Microarray analysis followed by quantitative real-time reverse transcription PCR was used to screen cocaine-responsive and cell cycle-related genes in a neural progenitor cell line where cocaine exposure caused a robust anti-proliferative effect by interfering with the G1-to-S transition. Cyclin A2, among genes related to the G1-to-S cell cycle transition, was most strongly down-regulated by cocaine. Down-regulation of cyclin A was also found in cocaine-treated human primary neural and A2B5+ progenitor cells, as well as in rat fetal brains exposed to cocaine in utero. Reversing cyclin A down-regulation by gene transfer counteracted the proliferation inhibition caused by cocaine. Further, we found that cocaine-induced accumulation of reactive oxygen species, which involves N-oxidation of cocaine via cytochrome P450, promotes cyclin A down-regulation by causing an endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress response, as indicated by increased phosphorylation of eIF2α and expression of ATF4. In the developing rat brain, the P450 inhibitor cimetidine counteracted cocaine-induced inhibition of neural progenitor cell proliferation as well as down-regulation of cyclin A.
Our results demonstrate that down-regulation of cyclin A underlies cocaine-induced proliferation inhibition in neural progenitors. The down-regulation of cyclin A is initiated by N-oxidative metabolism of cocaine and consequent ER stress. Inhibition of cocaine N-oxidative metabolism by P450 inhibitors may provide a preventive strategy for counteracting the adverse effects of cocaine on fetal brain development.
Investigating the mechanism of cocaine's effect on fetal brain development, Chun-Ting Lee and colleagues find that down-regulation of cyclin A by a cocaine metabolite inhibits neural proliferation.
Editors' Summary
Every year, cocaine abuse by mothers during pregnancy exposes thousands of unborn infants (fetuses) to this powerful and addictive stimulant. Maternal cocaine abuse during early pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage; its use during late pregnancy slows the baby's growth and can trigger premature labor. Babies exposed to cocaine shortly before birth are often irritable and have disturbed sleep patterns. They can also be very sensitive to sound and touch and consequently hard to comfort. These problems usually resolve spontaneously within the first few weeks of life but some permanent birth defects are also associated with frequent cocaine abuse during pregnancy. In particular, babies exposed to cocaine before birth sometimes have small heads—an abnormality that generally indicates a small brain—and, although they usually have normal intelligence, the development of their thinking skills and language is often delayed, and they can have behavioral problems.
Why Was This Study Done?
Exposure to cocaine before birth clearly interferes with some aspects of brain development. More specifically, it reduces the number and position of neurons (the cells that transmit information in the form of electrical impulses around the body) within the brain. All neurons develop from neural progenitor cells, and previous research suggests that cocaine exposure before birth inhibits the proliferation of these cells in the developing brain. It would be useful to understand exactly how cocaine affects neural progenitor cells, because it might then be possible to prevent the drug's adverse effects on brain development. In this study, therefore, the researchers investigate the molecular mechanism that underlies cocaine's effect on neural progenitor cells.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
When the researchers investigated the effects of cocaine on AF5 cells (rat neural progenitor cells that grow indefinitely in the laboratory), they found that concentrations of cocaine similar to those measured in fetal brains after maternal drug exposure inhibited the proliferation of AF5 cells by blocking the “G1-to-S transition.” This is a stage that cells have to pass through between each round of cell division (the production of two daughter cells from one parent cell). Next, the researchers showed that cocaine-treated AF5 cells made much less cyclin A2, a protein that controls the G1-to-S transition, than untreated cells. Cocaine also decreased cyclin A2 levels in neural progenitor cells freshly isolated from human fetal brains and in fetal rat brains exposed to the drug while in their mother's womb. Treatment of AF5 cells with a cyclin A2 expression vector (a piece of DNA that directs the production of cyclin A2) counteracted the down-regulation of cyclin A2 and restored AF5 proliferation in the presence of cocaine. Other experiments indicate that the reduction of cyclin A2 by cocaine in AF5 cells involves the accumulation of “reactive oxygen species,” by-products of the breakdown of cocaine by a protein that is a member of a family of proteins called cytochrome P450. Finally, treatment of pregnant rats with cimetidine (which inhibits the action of cytochrome P450) counteracted both the inhibition of neural progenitor cell proliferation and the cyclin A2 down-regulation that cocaine exposure induced in the brains of their unborn pups.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that the cocaine-induced inhibition of neural progenitor cell proliferation involves, at least in part, interfering with the production (that is, causing down-regulation) of cyclin A2. They also show that this down-regulation is induced by the breakdown of cocaine by cytochrome P450, and that in both a rat cell line and in fetal rats, the cytochrome P450 inhibitor cimetidine (a drug that is already used clinically for stomach problems) can block the adverse effects of cocaine on the proliferation of neural progenitor cells. These findings need to be confirmed in animals more closely related to people than rats, and the long-term effects of cimetidine need to be investigated, in particular its effects on cocaine toxicity. Nevertheless these results raise the possibility that giving cimetidine or other drugs with similar effects to pregnant women who are addicted to cocaine might prevent some of the harm that their drug habit does to their unborn children, although it is not clear whether there is a dosage of cimetidine that might be both safe and adequate for this purpose.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
A PLoS Medicine Perspective article by Steven Hyman further discusses this study
The US National Institute on Drug Abuse provides a fact sheet on cocaine (in English and Spanish)
The UK charity Release provides information and advice to the public and professionals about the law and drugs, including information about cocaine
MedlinePlus also provides a list of links to information about cocaine (in English and Spanish)
The March of Dimes Foundation, a US nonprofit organization for the improvement of child health, provides information about illicit drug use during pregnancy (in English and Spanish)
The Organization of Teratology Information Specialists also provides a fact sheet on cocaine and pregnancy (in English, Spanish, and French)
PMCID: PMC2504032  PMID: 18593214

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