Becoming a Mother May Alter Females’ Response to Cocaine, Rat Study Suggests

A new study on rats suggests the experience of becoming a mother may change a female’s response to cocaine, dampening the drug’s effects.

University of Michigan researchers say the research ultimately could lead to more customized drug treatments to fight addiction, according to Fox News.

“We know there are sex differences in the way men and women respond to drugs in the brain,” said lead researcher Jennifer Cummings. “We want to make sure we have gender specific treatments so we can tailor them toward men and women.”

The researchers fed cocaine to female rats, and examined the release of the chemical dopamine in the “pleasure center” of the brain. The mother rats released far less dopamine when fed cocaine compared with rats that had not given birth, indicating the drug had less of an effect on the brain of the mothers.

In another experiment, all of the rats were given multiple doses of cocaine. The researchers watched to see if they became increasingly active, as expected. They found the mother rats did not increase their activity, and showed much weaker responses, the article notes.

“While we have not yet identified a mechanism to explain these differences, they do suggest that the reward system and brain circuitry affected by cocaine is changed with maternal experience,” Cummings said in a news release. “The next step is to determine how factors such as hormone changes in pregnancy and early motherhood, and the experience of caring for offspring, might be differentially contributing to this response.”

Cummings presented her study this week at the Society for Neuroscience meeting.

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