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Prenatal exposure to drugs: effects on brain development and implications for policy and education

Abstract

The effects of prenatal exposure to drugs on brain development are complex and are modulated by the timing, dose and route of drug exposure. It is difficult to assess these effects in clinical cohorts as these are beset with problems such as multiple exposures and difficulties in documenting use patterns. This can lead to misinterpretation of research findings by the general public, the media and policy makers, who may mistakenly assume that the legal status of a drug correlates with its biological impact on fetal brain development and long-term clinical outcomes. It is important to close the gap between what science tells us about the impact of prenatal drug exposure on the fetus and the mother and what we do programmatically with regard to at-risk populations.

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Figure 1: Developmental events and ontogeny of drug targets.

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Acknowledgements

We thank S. Bales of the Frameworks Institute and J. Shonkoff, G. Najarian, A. Race and all the members of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child for insightful discussions with regard to how scientists and policy makers can work together to solve public problems.

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Thompson, B., Levitt, P. & Stanwood, G. Prenatal exposure to drugs: effects on brain development and implications for policy and education. Nat Rev Neurosci 10, 303–312 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn2598

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