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Effects of Prenatal Nicotine and THC on Dopaminergic Function and Nicotine Intake During Adolescence

Institution: University of California, Irvine
Investigator(s): Valeria Lallai,
Award Cycle: 2019 (Cycle 30) Grant #: T30FT0967 Award: $199,872
Subject Area: Neuroscience of Nicotine Addiction and Treatment
Award Type: Postdoctoral Fellowship Awards

Initial Award Abstract
Pregnancy is a phase of extreme susceptibility; indeed everything you eat, drink or smoke can have consequences on the offspring. Smoking during pregnancy has been confirmed to be dangerous for the unborn child, yet many women smokers do not stop. In addition, passive smoke inhaled by the mother has the potential to negatively influence the fetus, increasing the probability of later developmental problems. The perception that the use of marijuana is more safe and healthy during pregnancy is of further concern. The endogenous cannabinoid system on which THC acts is involved in the brain development process. Thus, exposure to THC during development has the potential to interfere profoundly with this process, although research is necessary to determine the extent of such negative impact. Moreover, new routes of nicotine and marijuana use have become more prominent in recent years, and thus, research is needed to understand the impact of these different forms of nicotine and THC exposure on the brain and health. Drugs of abuse, including nicotine and THC, exert their reinforcing properties through the dopaminergic system. Therefore, it is essential to determine the effects of nicotine and THC on the mesolimbic dopaminergic system to understand the importance of drug addiction and related processes. For this reason, the current proposal will examine the impact of prenatal exposure to nicotine, THC, or nicotine and THC co-exposure on adolescent behaviors associated with nicotine dependence. To further define the potential neural mechanisms involved, these studies will also assess differences in dopamine release and receptor expression in the brain to examine factors underlying the behavioral effects. Moreover, we will examine whether developmental drug exposure alters responsiveness to tobacco cessation therapeutics, which may provide insight into individual differences found in quitting tobacco smoking. Through these efforts, we can attain a better understanding for the impact of prenatal drug exposure on brain signaling mechanisms and the motivation to consume the nicotine during adolescence.