Prenatal drug exposure from infancy through emerging adulthood: Results from neuroimaging

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2019 May 1:198:39-53. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2019.01.032. Epub 2019 Feb 28.


Prenatal drug exposure may have important repercussions across the lifespan for cognition and behavior. While alcohol is a recognized teratogen, the influences of other substances may also be substantial. The neural underpinnings of the influences of prenatal drug exposure have been examined using longitudinal approaches and multiple imaging techniques. Here we review the existing literature on the neural correlates of prenatal drug exposure. We focused the review on studies that have employed functional neuroimaging and electroencephalography and on substances other than alcohol. We also framed the review through the lens of four developmental life stages (infancy, childhood, adolescence and emerging adulthood). We included papers that have examined any drug use, including tobacco, opiates, cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamines, or polysubstance use. Data suggest that prenatal drug exposure has long-lasting, deleterious influences on cognition and reward processing in infancy and childhood that persist into adolescence and emerging adulthood and may underlie some behavioral tendencies, such as increased externalizing and risk-taking behaviors, seen in these groups.

Keywords: Cognitive control; Development; Drugs of abuse; Neuroimaging; Prenatal exposure; Reward processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Neuroimaging
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / chemically induced
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / diagnostic imaging*
  • Reward
  • Substance-Related Disorders / complications*