Vol. 7, No. 1, 2001 Page 7

Prenatal cocaine exposure, reduced brain mass linked

Children heavily exposed to cocaine during prenatal development have smaller-than-average head circumferences, according to a new study by David Bateman and Claudia Chiriboga.

The researchers say their findings are unlikely to be attributable to altered scalp thickness, and thus almost undoubtedly indicate reduced brain mass. The fact that heavily-exposed children's head circumferences were disproportionately smaller than would be predicted by birth weight, they say, "supports the hypothesis that cocaine acts directly to inhibit fetal brain growth" by altering cell division, cell migration, and/or neurotransmitter function.

Bateman and Chiriboga note that another study found a two-fold increase in rates of reduced head circumference in cocaine-exposed children. Moreover, they say, "Several follow-up studies comparing cohorts of cocaine exposed and unexposed infants in early childhood and at school age have found compromised behavioral and cognitive development in association with small head circumference."


"Dose-response effect of cocaine on newborn head circumference," David A. Bateman and Claudia A. Chiriboga, Pediatrics, Vol. 106, No. 3, September 2000, p. e33. Address: David A. Bateman, Division of Neonatology, Allen Pavilion, New York Presbyterian Hospital, 5141 Broadway, New York, NY 10034, dab2@columbia.edu.

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