202205 Opioid Exposure and Effects on Placenta Function, Brain Development, and Neurodevelopmental Outcomes

​Program seeks Council approval for an initiative titled “Opioid Exposure and Effects on Placenta Function, Brain Development, and Neurodevelopmental Outcomes.” 

CDC data from 2020 report opioid use during pregnancy in approximately 6% of women and opioid-related diagnoses at birth increased by 131% over the previous decade. These numbers are particularly relevant for brain development and placental function. Brain development during the fetal, neonatal, and infancy periods reflects a time of high plasticity that is also highly susceptible to environmental influences, including maternal substance use. Furthermore, despite longstanding knowledge that the placenta is a critical organ in fetal development, regulating communication of hormones, immune factors, neurotransmitters, and exogenous substances between parent and fetus, there is limited basic and translational knowledge of how opioid use by pregnant people impacts placental function to influence and alter fetal brain development. The mechanistic understanding of how the maternal-placental-fetal ecosystem and fetal brain development interact in response to opioid and poly-substance use to impact neonatal and infant developmental outcomes remains unknown; however, this knowledge is critical to establishing appropriate approaches for prevention and early intervention and establishing clinical guidelines for pain management in pregnant people

This initiative will leverage innovations in imaging technologies that have allowed for significant advances in delineating structural and functional trajectories of fetal brain development during pregnancy and through the first several months of infancy. Furthermore, cutting-edge imaging and cell-census technologies, including assessments of placental structure and cellular function, and evaluation of placenta exosomes and maternal/fetal/placental omics blood biomarkers (genome, epigenome, transcriptome, and lipidome), are poised for application to assessing the impact of opioid exposure.

This initiative aligns with the priorities of the Pregnancy and Perinatology Branch at NICHD and addresses the NICHD Strategic Plan goals of Setting the Foundation for Healthy Pregnancies and Lifelong Wellness, and Improving Child and Adolescent Health and the Transition to Adulthood. Importantly, it also aligns with the priorities of the trans-NIH HEAL Initiative and other NIH Institutes, Centers, and Offices.

Program Contact

David Weinberg
Pregnancy and Perinatology Branch (PPB)


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