Cocaine Imaging Study

Prenatal Cocaine Exposure and the Adolescent Brain

Project Description:cocainebrain

          The MSACD Project has been involved since the late 1980s in a longitudinal study of children who were prenatally exposed to cocaine. Both children who were exposed to cocaine before birth and non-exposed children were recruited forthe study; they have been followed into their teen years.  Beginning with the adolescent follow-up, we worked with an expert in brain imaging, Dr. Xiaoping Hu, Emory Department of Biomedical Engineering. The goal of this study was to examine effects of prenatal cocaine exposure on teens, especially on how their brains work. The teens were asked to complete magnetic resonance imaging sessions (MRI) at Emory University Hospital. Images or pictures were taken of how the brain works. The cocaine-exposed teens showed patterns of brain activation that were different from those in the non-exposed teens. The cocaine-exposed adolescents were more affected by emotional arousal than the non-exposed teens. This result is very important because it is similar to behavioral and physiological findings when the children were younger.  Prenatal cocaine exposure consistently affects later emotional regulation. 

         Dr. Xiaoping Hu and MSACD researchers are now collaborating with another brain imaging group at the University of Georgia to examine how prenatal exposure to cocaine alters connections in the brain and brain networks. In this phase of the project, the brain scans collected in the teen follow-up study are being examined again. New, more advanced methods are now available to define or map brain networks. The researchers will compare the networks and patterns of connectivity in the cocaine-exposed and non-exposed teens. Eventually, the differences in the brain networks will be related to other measures from the study such as teen behavior, emotional adjustment, and cognitive processes.


The project is funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health to Tianming Liu, Ph.D., University of Georgia.  The Emory component of the study is funded by a sub-contract of this grant through the University of Georgia.

Research Team:

Principal Investigator:  Tianming Liu, Ph.D., Department of Computer Science and Bioimaging Research Center, University of Georgia

Principal Investigator for Emory Subcontract:  Xiaoping P. Hu, Ph.D., Department of Biomedical Engineering

Co-Investigator:  Claire D. Coles, PhD., Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Investigators:  Zhihao, Li, Ph.D., Department of Biomedical Engineering

Mary Ellen Lynch, Ph.D., Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. 

Papers based on this study:

Li, Z., Coles, C.D., Lynch, M.E., Hamann, S., Peltier, S., LaConte, S., & Hu, X. (2009).  Prenatal cocaine exposure alters emotional arousal regulation and its effects on working memory.  Neurotoxicology and Teratology, 31, 342-348.

Li, Z., Santhanam, Coles, C.D., Lynch, M.E., Hamann, S., Peltier, S., & Hu, X.  (2011).  Increased “default mode” activity in adolescents prenatally exposed to cocaine.  Human Brain Mapping, 32, 759-770.

Li, K., Zhu,D., Guo, L., Li, Z., Lynch, M.E., Coles, C., Hu, X. & Liu, T.  (2013)  Connectomics signatures of prenatal cocaine exposure affected adolescent brains.  Human Brain Mapping, 34, 2494-2510.

Li, Z., Santhanam, P., Coles, C.D., Lynch, M.E., Hamann, S., Peltier, S., & Hu,X. (2013). Prenatal cocaine exposure alters functional activastion n the ventral prefrontal cortex and its structural connectivity with amygdala.  Psychiatry Research:  Neuroimaging, 213, 47-55.