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Keywords:

  • Buprenorphine;
  • cognitive development;
  • methadone;
  • mirror neurone system;
  • prenatal exposure;
  • opioid maintenance therapy

Abstract

Aims

Opioid maintenance therapy (OMT) is generally recommended for pregnant opioid-dependent women. Previous studies investigating the long-term effects of OMT on children's cognitive development found that children of women in OMT have an increased risk of developing deficits in motor and visual perceptual skills, which are important aspects of the mirror neurone system (MNS), a complex neural circuit involved in learning and social interactions. The aim of the current study was to investigate aspects of the MNS in children of women in OMT.

Design

A 2 (control group versus OMT group) × 2 (human versus mechanic) mixed factorial design.

Setting

The Cognitive Developmental Research Unit at the University of Oslo, Norway.

Participants

Fifteen children of women in OMT and 15 non-exposed children participated.

Measurements

Goal-directed eye movements were recorded using a Tobii 1750 eye tracker. Neurocognitive tests were employed to map children's cognitive development.

Findings

The OMT group made fewer proactive goal-directed eye movements [mean = −37.73, standard deviation (SD) = 208.56] compared to the control group (mean = 181.47, SD = 228.65), F(1,28) = 7.53, P = 0.01, η2 = 0.21. No differences were found on tests of visual perception or goal understanding.

Conclusions

Use of opioid maintenance therapy during pregnancy appears to be associated with impaired goal-directed eye movements in the 4-year-old infant which may affect later social adjustment adversely.