Adolescents with and without gestational cocaine exposure: Longitudinal analysis of inhibitory control, memory and receptive language

Neurotoxicol Teratol. Jan-Feb 2011;33(1):36-46. doi: 10.1016/


Preclinical studies of gestational cocaine exposure (GCE) show evidence of changes in brain function at the anatomical, physiological, and behavioral levels, to include effects on developing dopaminergic systems. In contrast, human studies have produced less consistent results, with most showing small effects or no effects on developmental outcomes. Important changes in brain structure and function occur through adolescence, therefore it is possible that prenatal cocaine exposure has latent effects on neurocognitive (NC) outcome that do not manifest until adolescence or young adulthood. We examined NC function using a set of 5 tasks designed to tap 4 different systems: inhibitory control, working memory, receptive language, and incidental memory. For each NC task, data were collected longitudinally at ages 12, 14.5 and 17 years and examined using generalized estimating equations. One hundred and nine children completed at least two of the three evaluations. Covariates included in the final model were assessment number, gender, participant age at first assessment, caregiver depression, and two composites from the Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment (HOME), Environmental Stimulation and Parental Nurturance. We found no cocaine effects on inhibitory control, working memory, or receptive language (p=0.18). GCE effects were observed on incidental face memory task (p=0.055), and GCE by assessment number interaction effects were seen on the incidental word memory task (p=0.031). Participant performance on inhibitory control, working memory, and receptive language tasks improved over time. HOME Environmental Stimulation composite was associated with better receptive language functioning. With a larger sample size smaller differences between groups may have been detected. This report shows no evidence of latent effects of GCE on inhibitory control, working memory, or receptive language. GCE effects were observed on the incidental face memory task, and GCE by assessment number interaction effects was seen on the incidental word memory task.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / drug effects*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cocaine / toxicity*
  • Female
  • Foster Home Care
  • Humans
  • Language Development*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Memory / drug effects*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / chemically induced
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / psychology*
  • Psychological Tests
  • Social Environment


  • Cocaine