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A new animal study suggests male offspring of fathers who use cocaine are more resistant to the drug’s rewarding effects, compared with those whose fathers have not used cocaine.

The study compared male rat pups whose fathers received no cocaine, and male pups whose fathers were allowed to self-administer cocaine for two months. When the rat pups of undrugged fathers received repeated doses of cocaine, they responded with an increasing frenzy of movement—a beginning sign of addiction, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The rat pups of fathers who had used cocaine did not show a similar increase in movement, indicating they were more resistant to cocaine’s rewarding effects.

An examination of the rat pups’ brains showed a difference between those whose fathers were cocaine users and those whose fathers did not use the drug. The findings were presented Monday at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

Using cocaine did not alter genes themselves, but changed chemical signals that turn genes on and off, a process called epigenetics, the article explains.

“This adds to the growing body of evidence that cocaine abuse in a father rat can affect how his sons may respond to the drug—and point to potential mechanisms that contribute to this phenomenon,” study author Mathieu Wimmer, PhD, said in a news release. “Further research is needed to better understand how these behavior changes are passed down from one animal generation to the next, and eventually if the same holds true for humans.”

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