Sons of Cocaine-Using Fathers May Resist Addiction to Drug, Penn Medicine Study Suggests

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Media Contact:Steve Graff | stephen.graff@uphs.upenn.edu | 215-349-5653November 11, 2013

A father’s cocaine use may make his sons less sensitive to the drug and thereby more likely to resist addictive behaviors, suggests new findings from an animal study presented by Penn Medicine researchers at Neuroscience 2013, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

The study, led by Mathieu Wimmer, PhD, a post-doctoral researcher in the laboratory of R. Christopher Pierce, PhD, associate professor of Neuroscience in Psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, found that sons, but not females, of male rats on cocaine were not only less likely to want the drug, but also resistant to effects of it. This suggests cocaine causes epigenetic changes—that is alterations to DNA that do not involve changing the sequence—in sperm in which reprogrammed information is transmitted down to the next generation of men. 

Last year, Dr. Pierce and colleagues found that cocaine abuse in a male rat rendered the next generation of animals resistant to the rewarding properties of the drug—those offspring were less likely to take cocaine. They found changes in the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is a molecule known to be important for the rewarding efficacy of cocaine, but only by looking at molecular signaling pathways in progeny that had never experienced cocaine.

In the current study, the authors focused on the physiology of neurons before and after taking cocaine in the offspring of cocaine-experienced fathers, and found that they were less sensitive to the drug and less likely to succumb to addictive behaviors.

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