Methamphetamine (METH) abuse is a major problem in the United States and world-wide. It is mostly abused by young adults and about half of the users are women. METH has been shown to increase risky sexual behavior, thus unintended pregnancies are prevalent. Unfortunately, even when a pregnancy is detected, METH-abusing women often continue regular METH use throughout pregnancy, putting the fetus at serious risk for developmental and behavioral impairments. The effects of METH in adults are well described and include profound effects on the central nervous and cardiovascular system, including hypertension, tachycardia and stroke. However, the effects on the developing fetus and on the pregnant mother are only poorly understood.
The goal of this project is to determine the acute effect on the mother and the short-and long-term consequences of METH use on the offspring. To this end we are utilizing a translational, clinically-relevant rat model of human METH abuse via maternal METH self-administration prior and throughout pregnancy. Female rats self-administering METH on a daily basis demonstrate a sustained increase in blood pressure throughout the gestational period compared to controls, whereas their weight gain during pregnancy remains similar to controls. Their offspring, however, are significantly smaller at birth and they reach developmental milestones slower than control offspring. In adulthood, METH-exposed offspring is more sensitive to the stimulating and reinforcing effects of METH compared to controls. In terms of cardiovascular function, aged METH-exposed offspring shows significantly increased basal blood pressure compared to control offspring.
The results of this project show that prenatal METH exposure has immediate effects during pregnancy and a long-lasting effect on offspring development and behavior. Prenatal METH-exposure also predisposes offspring to cardiovascular disease long-term. These results will serve public health interests by providing knowledge which may lead to the development of effective interventions to improve the well-being of drug-abusing pregnant women and protect their highly vulnerable offspring.