Cocaine suppresses fetal immune system

Janet L. Karlix, Marylou Behnke, Fonda Davis-Eyler, Kathleen Wobie, Val Adams, Becky Freiburger, Michael Conlon, Ian R. Tebbett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


The effects of cocaine are well documented in the CNS; however, recent evidence suggests that cocaine may suppress the immune system. Maternal cocaine use essentially exposes the fetus to a continuous exposure of cocaine. The objective of this study was to investigate the immunomodulatory effects of cocaine and its metabolites on maternal and fetal immune systems. Subjects were recruited from an Investigational Review Board approved protocol, and biologic specimens were collected. For each subject peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were isolated by density gradient. Each PBMC sample was stimulated in separate wells with phytohemagglutinin and phrobol 12myristate 13-acetate. Samples were radiolabeled and stimulation was measured. Cytokine measurements were made on the serum via ELISA assay techniques. In both the phorbol 12-myrisate 13-acetate and the phytohemagglutinin group, the PBMCs isolated from fetal cord blood in the cocaine-using group had significantly (p < 0.05) decreased responses compared with control subjects. IL 1 and IL 2 concentrations were suppressed in the cocaine-exposed fetal serum compared with controls (p < 0.005 and p < 0.05, respectively). We have shown that in utero cocaine exposure results in a nonspecific suppression of fetal T lymphocyte response. The clinical consequences of prenatal cocaine-induced immunosuppression need to be further explored.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-46
Number of pages4
JournalPediatric Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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