NIH selects U-M as one of thirteen sites to launch landmark study on substance use and adolescent brain development

ANN ARBOR – The National Institutes of Health just announced that the University of Michigan would be one of thirteen research grants to institutions around the country as part of a study about the effects of adolescent substance use on the developing brain. The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study will follow approximately 10,000 children beginning at ages nine to ten, before they initiate drug use, through the period of highest risk for substance use and other mental health disorders. Scientists will track exposure to substances (including nicotine, alcohol, and marijuana), academic achievement, cognitive skills, mental health, and brain structure and function using advanced research methods.PSP_7243

The U-M site, led by Drs. Mary Heitzeg and Robert Zucker, will recruit 575 nine and ten-year-olds into the ABCD study. They have partnered with Drs. Sara Jo Nixon and Linda Cottler at the University of Florida, where they will recruit an additional 400 youth for the study.

“We will be focusing on the relationships among substance use, brain maturation and mental health and how these influence one another over time,” said Dr. Mary Heitzeg, study lead for U-M. “Of particular interest for our group is to identify the contextual factors—such as family dynamics, social supports, peer influences and neighborhood characteristics—that impact these relationships to shape healthy or unhealthy outcomes. The large, diverse sample of youth to be followed by the ABCD study will afford an unprecedented opportunity to uncover critical risk and protective factors that affect adolescent substance use and associated outcomes as they unfold over time.”

Drs. Heitzeg and Zucker are both faculty in the Psychiatry Department at the University of Michigan Medical School. Other participating faculty at the University of Michigan include: Dr. Luke Hyde from the Department of Psychology in the College of Literature, Science and Arts; Dr. Timothy Johnson from the Biostatistics Department in the School of Public Health; Dr. Scott Peltier from Biomedical Engineering in the College of Engineering; Dr. John Schulenberg from the Department of Psychology and Institute for Social Research; and Dr. Chandra Sripada from the Psychiatry Department in the Medical School.

“We are looking forward to working with the National Institutes of Health, the Coordinating and Data Analysis and Informatics Centers at the University of California in San Diego, and the ten other research project sites across the country on this landmark study to understand the consequences of substance use on the developing brain,” said Dr. Robert Zucker, U-M site co-leader.

The ABCD Study will seek to address many questions related to substance use and development that will help inform prevention and treatment research priorities, public health strategies, and policy decisions, including:

  • What is the impact of occasional versus regular use of marijuana, alcohol, tobacco, and other substances, alone or in combination, on the structure and function of the developing brain?
  • How does the use of specific substances impact the risk for using other substances?
  • What are the brain pathways that link adolescent substance use and risk for mental illnesses?
  • What impact does substance use have on physical health, psychological development, information processing, learning and memory, academic achievement, social development, and other behaviors?
  • What factors (such as prenatal exposure, genetics, head trauma, and demographics) influence the development of substance use and its consequences?

“With advances in neuroimaging and other investigative tools, we will be able to look in greater detail at the impact of substance use on young people,” said Nora D. Volkow, M.D., director of NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). “Adolescents have access to high potency marijuana and greater varieties of nicotine delivery devices than previous generations. We want to know how that and other trends affect the trajectory of the developing brain.”

For more information and for information on additional sites please review the full NIH press release here. This grant is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The NIH grant number is 1 U01 DA 041106-01.