Using an animal model researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) have found that the sons of male rats exposed to cocaine were resistant to the drug’s rewarding effects. While it has long been thought that there is a genetic component to addiction, these findings suggest that there may be an epigenetic influence—that is, that cocaine-induced physiological changes are passed down from one generation to the next.
“This study is the first to show that the chemical effects of cocaine use can be passed down to future generations to cause a resistance to addictive behavior, indicating that paternal exposure to toxins such as cocaine can have profound effects on gene expression and behavior in their offspring,” said senior author R. Christopher Pierce, Ph.D., associate professor of Neuroscience in Psychiatry at Penn.
The research team had male rats self-administer cocaine for 60 days, while control rats were administered saline. The male rats were then mated with females never exposed to the drug and then separated. The offspring were then monitored to see whether they would self-administer cocaine. The results showed that the male offspring, but not the female offspring, had decreased levels of cocaine intake compared with the control group.
Further research showed that the male offspring of the cocaine-addicted rats had increased levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein the in a certain region of the brain. This protein is known to dampen the effects of cocaine on the brain. This research is significant in that it is helping addiction specialists further understand the brain’s role in addiction, which could lead to more treatment options.
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