This is your teen brain on drugs: In search of biological factors unique to dependence toxicity in adolescence.


Response variability across the lifespan is an important consideration in toxicology and risk assessment, and the toxic effects of drugs and chemicals during adolescence need more research. This paper summarizes a workshop presented in March 2019, at the Society of Toxicology Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, that brought together experts in research on drug dependence and toxicity related to nicotine, cannabis, cocaine, and other illicit drugs during adolescence. The goal of the workshop was to address the following issues: (1) Do the effects of adolescent exposure differ from the same exposure in adults? (2) Are there unique biological markers of adolescent brain development? If so, what are they and how reliable are they? (3) Since multiple factors influence substance use disorder, can we disentangle risk factors for abuse and/or toxicity? What are the underlying biological susceptibilities that lead to dependence and neurotoxicity? What are the social, psychosocial and environmental factors that contribute to abuse susceptibilities? This paper reviews drug policy and national trends in adolescent substance use; the public health consequences of e-cigarettes; rat models of adolescent-onset nicotine self-administration and persisting effects of gestational nicotine; sex-dependent effects of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol on adolescent brain-behavior relationships; and translational approaches for identifying adolescent risk factors for transition to drug dependence. There is strong evidence that drug exposure prior to adulthood has longer lasting effects on behavior and the underlying neural circuitry. These effects, which are sex-dependent and influenced by stress, may be candidates as predictors of adolescent vulnerability. A major challenge to determining if adolescents have a unique susceptibility to dependence is whether and to what extent the human data allow distinction between the increased risk due to biological immaturity, an underlying biological susceptibility to dependence, or psychosocial and environmental factors for substance dependence. Factors important to consider for development of animal models include the timing and pattern of exposure as it relates to adolescence; age of assessment, and direct comparison with similar effects following exposures to adults to demonstrate that these effects are unique to adolescence. Here we provide a roadmap for further research into what makes adolescent brain development unique.





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Publication Info

Kwan, Leslie Y, David L Eaton, Susan L Andersen, Diana Dow-Edwards, Edward D Levin, John Talpos, Charles V Vorhees, Abby A Li, et al. (2020). This is your teen brain on drugs: In search of biological factors unique to dependence toxicity in adolescence. Neurotoxicology and teratology, 81. p. 106916. 10.1016/ Retrieved from

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Edward Daniel Levin

Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Dr. Levin is Chief of the Neurobehavioral Research Lab in the Psychiatry Department of Duke University Medical Center. His primary academic appointment is as Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. He also has secondary appointments in the Department Pharmacology and Cancer Biology, the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke. His primary research effort is to understand basic neural interactions underlying cognitive function and addiction and to apply this knowledge to better understand cognitive dysfunction and addiction disorders and to develop novel therapeutic treatments.

The three main research components of his laboratory are focused on the themes of the basic neurobiology of cognition and addiction, neurobehavioral toxicology and the development of novel therapeutic treatments for cognitive dysfunction and substance abuse. Currently, our principal research focus concerns nicotine. We have documented the basic effects of nicotine on learning memory and attention as well as nicotine self-administration. We are continuing with more mechanistic studies in rat models using selective lesions, local infusions and neurotransmitter interaction studies. We have found that nicotine improves memory performance not only in normal rats, but also in rats with lesions of hippocampal and basal forebrain connections. We are concentrating on alpha7 and alpha4beta2 nicotinic receptor subtypes in the hippocampus, amygdala , thalamus and frontal cortex and how they interact with dopamine D1 and D2 and glutamate NMDA systems with regard to memory and addiction. I am also conducting studies on human cognitive behavior. We have current studies to assess nicotine effects on attention, memory and mental processing speed in schizophrenia, Alzheimer's Disease and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. In the area of neurobehavioral toxicology, I have continuing projects to characterize the adverse effects of prenatal and adolescent nicotine exposure. Our primary project in neurobehavioral toxicology focuses on the cognitive deficits caused by the marine toxins. The basic and applied aims of our research complement each other nicely. The findings concerning neural mechanisms underlying cognitive function help direct the behavioral toxicology and therapeutic development studies, while the applied studies provide important functional information concerning the importance of the basic mechanisms under investigation.

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