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Ther Adv Cardiovasc Dis. 2009 Feb;3(1):7-16. doi: 10.1177/1753944708099877.

Short- and long-term adverse effects of cocaine abuse during pregnancy on the heart development.

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Center for Perinatal Biology, Department of Physiology/Pharmacology and Biochemistry, Loma Linda University, School of Medicine, Loma Linda, California 92350, USA.


The effect of cocaine on the developing fetus is a topic of considerable interest and debate. One of the potential effects of fetal cocaine exposure is damage to the developing heart. This review provides an overview of the current understanding of the short- and long-term effects of fetal cocaine exposure on the heart in both humans and animal models. Human studies are still preliminary but have suggested that fetal cocaine exposure impacts on the developing heart. Studies in animal models provide strong evidence for a programming effect resulting in detrimental long-term changes to the heart induced by fetal cocaine exposure. In the rat model, fetal cocaine results in apoptosis in the term heart, left ventricular remodeling and myocyte hypertrophy, as well as increased sensitivity to ischemia/reperfusion injury in the adult male offspring. The rat model has also shown evidence of epigenetic modifications in response to intrauterine cocaine. Increased DNA methylation of promoter regions leads to a long-term decrease in the expression of the cardioprotective gene, PKCepsilon. The current data shows fetal cocaine exposure has significant immediate and long-term cardiac consequences in animal models and while human studies are still incomplete they suggest this phenomenon may also be significant in humans exposed to cocaine during development.

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