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Mom's past drug abuse may alter brain chemistry of offspring

Study in rats shows lingering effects of adolescent opiate use may be passed on for two generations

SAN DIEGO — Drug-using moms-to-be who quit before pregnancy starts can still raise the risk among both their children and grandchildren for addiction or other psychiatric disorders, a new study in rats suggests.

Researchers at the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Mass., exposed female rats to morphine for 10 days during adolescence. After three weeks drug-free, the rats mated with healthy males. Male offspring of those matings produced less of a molecule sensitive to the chemical messenger dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, a brain structure related to addiction and reward-seeking behavior. A similar deficit was found in male grandchildren of the original rats, Elizabeth Byrnes of Tufts reported November 14 at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

Problems with the brain’s dopamine system have been linked to substance abuse and mental illness.

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