Projects 2 and 3 will study similar measures to Project 1, but will focus on human pairs of mothers and infants, including mothers who used cocaine during pregnancy and those who did not. Project 2, also based at UNC, will examine mothers' emotional and hormonal responses when feeding and cuddling their infants, and to baby-related cues such as cries and pictures of babies. Researchers will also study how cocaine exposure during pregnancy affects babies' early brain development, whether their cries have different sound characteristics, and behavioral factors that may affect mother-infant interaction.
Project 3, which is based at Yale, will focus on using functional brain imaging scans, or fMRI technology, to study how mothers' brains react to many of the same stimulus cues used in Project 2, as well as how particular genes may modify key aspects of early maternal sensitivity to infants' cues.
"Understanding, for example, how genes and experiences such as substance use come together to influence how a mother responds to her baby's cry or other expressions of distress sets the stage for working towards finding innovative interventions for adults who are struggling to care for their children under the burden of their own substance use," Mayes said.
All studies will also focus on the role of the hormone oxytocin, which has been identified as playing an important role in human child birth, production of breast milk and response to stress, and has also been directly associated with early maternal care and social behavior in laboratory rodents. Previous studies in Johns' lab found that rodent mothers exposed to cocaine during and just after pregnancy provided poorer care to their pups, which correlated with disruptions of the oxytocin system.
|Contact: Tom Hughes|
University of North Carolina School of Medicine