Fathers who consume cocaine before conceiving a child could be putting their sons in danger. A new study has shown that sons of fathers who used cocaine are more susceptible to memory loss and learning disabilities.
The research, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, was conducted by researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. According to the researchers, drug abuse among fathers could negatively impact cognitive development in their children, provided these are males.
Sons Of Cocaine-Using Fathers At Risk
The study found evidence that sons whose fathers used cocaine prior to conception find it harder to make new memories. Unlike the daughters, the sons of male rats that were administered cocaine for a long period of time were unable to remember the location of different items around them. Additionally, they had an impaired synaptic plasticity in hippocampus, the brain area that is associated with spatial navigation and learning.
Epigenetics is the field of study responsible with heritable traits that are not caused by DNA sequence changes. The researchers have shown that cocaine use in dads causes epigenetic changes in their sons’ brains, which result in a change in the genes responsible with the formation of new memories.
The D-serine, a molecule that is strongly associated with memory, is depleted among male rats whose fathers consumed cocaine. Additionally, restoring the levels of this molecule was associated with improved learning ability among the male baby rats.
“Hippocampal administration of d-serine reversed both the memory formation and synaptic plasticity deficits. Collectively, these results demonstrate that paternal cocaine exposure produces epigenetic remodeling in the hippocampus leading to NMDA receptor-dependent memory formation and synaptic plasticity impairments only in male progeny, which has significant implications for the male descendants of chronic cocaine users,” noted the research.
According to the authors, cocaine abuse among dads had a massive contribution in altering the chemical marks on histones in their sons’ brains, although the children were never exposed to cocaine.
Prevalence Of Cocaine Use
In the United States, the prevalence of cocaine use among the general population dropped by 32 percent between 2006 and 2014. At the same time, cocaine-related deaths decreased by 34 percent between 2006 and 2013, according to the last data available published in the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2016 report.
“Reducing the number of heavy cocaine users can thus effectively reduce the cocaine market. A recent study in the United States showed that cocaine consumption and spending on cocaine fell by 50 percent between 2000 and 2010 (mostly between 2006 and 2010). The reduction in spending among a small group of high-frequency cocaine users accounted for around 75 per cent of the aggregate reduction in spending and thus in cocaine consumption over the period 2000-2010,” also noted the report.
The scientific community has made efforts to increase awareness when it comes to the dangers of cocaine use. Aside from the health issues pointed out by the current study, many other psychological and psychiatric problems have been associated with cocaine consumption.
“In addition to the increased risk for stroke and seizures, other neurological problems can occur with long-term cocaine use. There have been reports of intracerebral hemorrhage, or bleeding within the brain, and balloon-like bulges in the walls of cerebral blood vessels. Movement disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, may also occur after many years of cocaine use. Generally, studies suggest that a wide range of cognitive functions are impaired with long-term cocaine use-such as sustaining attention, impulse inhibition, memory, making decisions involving rewards or punishments, and performing motor tasks,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
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