By Loren Grush
Having a baby may do more than just change a woman’s behavior; her brain chemistry may undergo some distinct changes as well.
New research from the University of Michigan has revealed that motherhood may dampen the effects of cocaine use – a discovery that could lead to more customized drug therapies to fight addiction.
“We know there are sex differences in the way men and women respond to drugs in the brain,” Jennifer Cummings, a research investigator at the Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute and lead author of the study, told FoxNews.com. “We want to make sure we have gender specific treatments so we can tailor them towards men and women.”
According to Cummings, more and more research has been dedicated to studying the physiological and behavioral effects that motherhood can have on women. Growing research has revealed that hormone changes during pregnancy can actually boost abilities such as memory and the ability to navigate.
Hoping to better understand other chemical changes the brain undergoes during pregnancy and motherhood, the researchers decided to focus on drug response patterns in mother rats versus non-mother rats. After giving the female rats doses of cocaine, they found very clear differences in how the “pleasure centers” of their brains reacted.
“We looked at dopamine release in the brain,” Cummings said. “One of the big things you hear about is this neurotransmitter dopamine; it produces the high that comes with taking drugs. We wanted to see much of this dopamine is released in the ‘pleasure center’ for those who are mothers and those who are not.”
Overall the maternal animals released far less amounts of dopamine when given cocaine compared to their non-mother counterparts – meaning the drug had less of an effect on the brain.
In another experiment examining the behavior of the mother rats, all the rats were given multiple doses of cocaine. According to Cummings, as more and more doses are given to test subjects, the researchers would expect to see the rats become increasingly active. However, the mother rats did not increase their activity and had much weaker responses.