Project Summary

About the Project, including schematic, "Translational Model of Information Flow between/within Animal & Human Projects on Common Measures"

Although maternal cocaine use is highly correlated with maternal neglect and poorer mother-infant interactions in both human and animal models, there is little direct research on perceptual, endocrine and neurological responses of mothers to relevant infant cue presentation. Similarly, little is known about abnormal physiological/behavioral responses in infants prenatally exposed to cocaine that may affect parenting behaviors of both drug using and non-using mothers. There is likely to be a dynamic interaction between the biological vulnerabilities of an infant, and postnatal factors like the mother-infant relationship.

This Program Project is a multidisciplinary, translational research endeavor involving both animal and human studies. The focus of this Project is the elucidation of neurobiological and behavioral characteristics of mothers who have used primarily cocaine during pregnancy and of offspring prenatally exposed to cocaine, which could have detrimental consequences for mother-infant interactions.

The research projects focus on 3 basic premises as follows:

  1. There are physiological/behavioral characteristics of babies prenatally exposed to cocaine primarily that may render the baby less able to elicit maternal care (infant cries or vocalizations, physical characteristics of the infant, infant behavioral response to mother, etc.).

  2. Mothers who have abused primarily cocaine, have altered neurological, endocrine or behavioral / perceptual capabilities that could hinder their ability to respond adequately to infant stimuli, and thus contribute to a dysfunctional mother-infant relationship.

  3. Finally, this proposal will attempt to identify common cocaine-related effects in both rodents and humans that might influence future research endeavors.

Given that it is the delicate interplay of both mother and infant that probably forms the basis for their functional bond as mother and child, the disruption of normal responsiveness of either, decreases the likelihood of an optimal or even normal relationship between mother and infant. Recent basic animal research has emphasized both the intergenerational and biological impact of differential quality of maternal behavior, and clinical research suggests the importance of early stable relationships in child development. Through this multidisciplinary project, we can extend these findings and move in new directions with an extraordinary team of clinical and basic science investigators, dedicated to working together as a team to answer the vital questions we have posed.

The Program Project brings together outstanding teams of project investigators to lead three inter-related studies of cocaine effects on maternal and infant interactions.

  • The Mother/Infant Animal Model project examines neurobiological and genetic mechanisms for cocaine-induced deficits in a well-validated rat model.
  • The UNC Mother/Infant project will use state-of-the-art brain imaging techniques to determine the effects of prenatal cocaine exposure on early brain development, and investigate whether cocaine induces dysregulation of neuropeptides in mothers and babies.
  • The Yale Mother/Infant project will focus on changes in biochemistry and neural response as underlying mechanisms for abnormal maternal responses in cocaine-using mothers.

All of the projects, both human and animal, share structural imaging as a measure in mothers (Yale human studies), infants (UNC human studies) and both infants and mothers (animal model studies).

The Program Project also includes exceptional core facilities for neuroimaging and data analysis.

  • The Imaging core has been developing novel image segmentation and analysis techniques with a special emphasis on the early developing brain and has made these tools available to the international community.
  • Our Biostatistical, measurement and data management core includes personnel with a strong record of expertise in both data analysis and measurement of endocrine and vocalization measures.
  • Finally, the internal and external advisors and the Administrative core for this proposal are comprised of leading scientists in the fields of drug abuse and infant/developmental research.

Together, these scientists will employ their various skills and multidisciplinary research expertise to address common questions using innovative technology and methods in new and exciting ways.

Each project has a different focus, all nested within the overall focus of the proposal. The common measures that all projects will be investigating, in both human and animal projects, may have direct clinical and basic relevance for determining the mechanisms of cocaine’s impact on both the mother and infant, in the early postpartum period.

These studies are translational (see schematic below), not only within the proposal, but also in their value to other fields of research. Discoveries made during this proposal may offer insight not only into how drugs disrupt maternal-infant interactions, but also the very basis of how characteristics of infant stimuli elicit maternal response effectively and how maternal perception, endocrine state and the basic neural circuitry of parenting is impacted differentially by these infant related stimuli. The importance of the results from the projects as an integrated whole, could be remarkable, and could have a tremendous scientific impact.

  • Dr. Josephine Johns, UNC Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Adjunct Associate Professor of Behavioral Neuroscience, is the Director and Principal Investigator of the Program Project Grant.
  • Dr. Linda Mayes, Arnold Gesell Professor of Child Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Psychology in the Child Study Center at Yale University, is the Principal Investigator for the Yale site.
  • Dr. Sheryl Moy, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Project Administrator.

 

Translational Circles