Monday, January 27, 2014

Do Adverse Childhood Experiences Make Amphetamine More Pleasurable?

In a fascinating new study, researchers from the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University observed the way amphetamine affects the brain, comparing subjects who reported adverse childhood experiences (ACE) with those who did not. They found significant differences between groups in the way the drug impacted the dopamine (DA) neurotransmitter in the ventral striatal (VS) region of the brain, finding a significant positive correlation between early childhood trauma and VS DA release.

The results, published online in the journal, Psychopharmacology, suggest that adverse childhood experiences may enhance vulnerability to amphetamine-use disorders later in life by changing the way the brain transmits dopamine. Interestingly, a positive association between childhood trauma and amphetamine-induced pleasure was suggested for men, but vice versa for women.

Here's the abstract via SpringerLink, and an interesting image from the article:



Childhood exposure to severe or chronic trauma is an important risk factor for the later development of adult mental health problems, such as substance abuse. Even in nonclinical samples of healthy adults, persons with a history of significant childhood adversity seem to experience greater psychological distress than those without this history. Evidence from rodent studies suggests that early life stress may impair dopamine function in ways that increase risks for drug abuse. However, the degree to which these findings translate to other species remains unclear.


This study was conducted to examine associations between childhood adversity and dopamine and subjective responses to amphetamine in humans.


Following intake assessment, 28 healthy male and female adults, aged 18–29 years, underwent two consecutive 90-min positron emission tomography studies with high specific activity [11C]raclopride. The first scan was preceded by intravenous saline; the second by amphetamine (AMPH 0.3 mg/kg).


Consistent with prior literature, findings showed positive associations between childhood trauma and current levels of perceived stress. Moreover, greater number of traumatic events and higher levels of perceived stress were each associated with higher ventral striatal dopamine responses to AMPH. Findings of mediation analyses further showed that a portion of the relationship between childhood trauma and dopamine release may be mediated by perceived stress.


Overall, results are consistent with preclinical findings suggesting that early trauma may lead to enhanced sensitivity to psychostimulants and that this mechanism may underlie increased vulnerability for drug abuse.

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