Rat Study Finds Sons of Fathers Who Use Cocaine at Risk for Learning Disabilities

-Janice Wood

Fathers who use cocaine at the time of conceiving a child may be putting their sons at risk for learning disabilities and memory loss, according to a new animal study.

Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania say the findings reveal that drug abuse by fathers — separate from the well-established effects of cocaine use in mothers — may negatively impact cognitive development in their male offspring.

The study, led by Mathieu Wimmer, Ph.D., a post-doctoral researcher in the laboratory of R. Christopher Pierce, Ph.D., a professor of Neuroscience in Psychiatry, found evidence that the sons of fathers that ingested cocaine prior to conception struggle to make new memories.

Their findings demonstrated that the sons — but not the daughters — of male rats that consumed cocaine for an extended period of time could not remember the location of items in their surroundings and had impaired synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus, a brain region critical for learning and spatial navigation in humans and rodents.

“These results suggest that the sons of male cocaine addicts may be at risk for learning deficits,” said Pierce.

Pierce and his research team propose that epigenetic mechanisms are at the root of the problem. Epigenetics refers to heritable traits that are not caused by changes in the DNA sequence, as is the case with genetic inheritance.

DNA is tightly wound around proteins called histones, like thread around a spool, and chemical changes to histones influence the expression of genes, which is an epigenetic process, the researchers explained.

The new study shows that cocaine use in dads caused epigenetic changes in the brains of their sons, changing the expression of genes important for memory formation.

D-serine, a molecule essential for memory, was depleted in male rats whose fathers took cocaine, the researchers said. They noted that replenishing the levels of D-serine in the sons’ hippocampus improved learning in these animals.

In collaboration with Benjamin Garcia, Ph.D., presidential professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics in the Epigenetics Institute at the Perelman School of Medicine, the researchers showed that cocaine abuse in dads broadly altered the chemical marks on histones in the brain of their sons, even though the sons were never exposed to cocaine.

Chemical modifications on the histones were changed to favor active transcription of genes in the hippocampus of male rats with a paternal history of cocaine use, allowing more production of the enzyme D-amino acid oxidase, which degrades D-serine, according to the study’s findings.

The researchers postulate that increased expression of the enzyme, driven by changes in the epigenetic landscape, cause the memory problems in the sons of addicted rats.

“There is substantial interest in the development of D-serine and related compounds, which are well tolerated by humans, as drug therapies,” Pierce said. “The ability of D-serine to reverse the adverse effects of paternal cocaine taking on learning adds potential clinical relevance to our research.”

Cannabis use alters DNA to increase disease risk, study says

Cannabis alters DNA, leading to genetic mutations that may raise the risk of serious diseases for users of the drug and future generations. This is the conclusion of a new study by researchers from The University of Western Australia.
[Marijuana joints]
Researchers say chemicals in cannabis alter DNA, which can cause gene mutations that raise the risk of cancer and other diseases.

Cannabis – also referred to as marijuana – is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States, though legalization of the drug for medical or recreational use is increasing across the country.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), around 22.2 million people in the U.S. have used marijuana in the past month, and studies have suggested that use of the drug has increased significantly in recent years.

Given the high number of individuals using cannabis, it is important to establish its effects on health.

Study authors Albert Stuart Reece and Gary Hulse – both of the School of Psychiatry and Clinical Sciences at the University of Western Australia – note that previous research has suggested a link between cannabis use and increased risk of severe illnesses.

The mechanisms underlying this association, however, have been unclear. And researchers have had little insight into how cannabis use may affect future generations.

Cannabis-related DNA damage can be passed to future generations

To investigate further, the team conducted an in-depth analysis of previous studies and literary material assessing the effect of cannabis use on cells and how this might relate to disease risk.

The researchers recently published their findings in the journal Mutation Research/Fundamental and Molecular Mechanisms of Mutagenesis.

They found that the chemical properties of cannabis – including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient of the drug – interact with and alter users’ DNA, which can lead to gene mutations that increase the risk of disease.

“With cannabis use increasing globally in recent years, this has a concerning impact for the population,” says Reece.

The researchers point out that even if a user does not develop an illness as a result of such mutations, the “unseen” damage can be passed to their children, and even their grandchildren, increasing their risk of disease.

“Even if a mother has never used cannabis in her life, the mutations passed on by a father’s sperm can cause serious and fatal illnesses in their children.

The parents may not realize that they are carrying these mutations, which can lie dormant and may only affect generations down the track, which is the most alarming aspect.”

Albert Stuart Reece

Reece explains that when cannabis chemicals alter a person’s DNA, this can slow the growth of cells. This may have severe consequences for fetal growth, causing underdeveloped organs or limbs, and it can spur childhood cancers.

“The worst cancers are reported in the first few years of life in children exposed in utero to cannabis effects,” notes Reece.

The authors conclude that their findings may have important implication for researchers, healthcare professionals, and policymakers when it comes to regulating cannabis use, and there should be focus on protecting individuals who are most vulnerable to the negative health implications of the drug.

-Honor Whiteman

Changing (Stages of Change)

If you are struggling with an active addiction, you know what the shame feels like when you are not meeting other peoples’ expectations, you are losing relationships and jobs and health. Often, you feel extreme pressure to be changed but you may feel like you are drowning, instead. How do I get from here to there, you ask?

It is important to know how people change because then you can have realistic expectations, start to communicate better with those around you and start making changes in your addictions and other areas of your life!!!

There are various “stages of change:”

The first stage is Pre-Contemplation: this is the stage where a person doesn’t think he/she has a problem. Other people around them may think they have a HUGE problem but don’t see it. In this stage of change it isn’t going to help to push or pull the person and there can be a lot of conflict with those around you.

Contemplation stage of change comes next and is an important turning point. You start to think, “maybe they are right. Maybe something is wrong here.” “ Why have I lost all these things?” This is when the door opens for the possibility of change.

Preparation stage of change is when you have accepted there is a problem and start to think about how you want to go about changing it. At this point, you start to take other people’s suggestions into consideration.

Action stage of change is when you are actively involved in recovery activities, you are no longer alone, fighting to keep it all out. You start to go to 12-step groups maybe, or a church recovery group, engage with a Talkspace therapist, the options are many.

Maintenance stage of change is when you have reaped some of the reward of your difficult road. You have clean and sober friends, clean places to go, ways to celebrate that don’t include substances. Relationships are mended. Is it still difficult at times, absolutely, but you have resources and supports to get you through!

Relapse can come at any point. It is important to know it is often part of the cycle of change. If you relapse, you don’t lose all the wisdom you gained down your road of change. You need to hop back in and do what works, call out every supportive person and resource you have.

-Marie Turco, LCSW, CCPD_D