Drugs of abuse that cause developing neurons to commit suicide

Nuri B. Farber, John W. Olney

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


When neuronal activity is abnormally suppressed during the developmental period of synaptogenesis, the timing and sequence of synaptic connections is disrupted, and this causes nerve cells to receive an internal signal to commit suicide, a form of cell death known as "apoptosis". By altering glutamate and GABA transmission alcohol suppresses neuronal activity, causing millions of nerve cells to commit suicide in the developing brain. This proapoptotic effect of alcohol provides a likely explanation for the diminished brain size and lifelong neurobehavioral disturbances associated with the human fetal alcohol syndrome. These findings have public health significance, not only in relation to fetal alcohol syndrome, but also in relation to several other drugs of abuse and various drugs used in obstetric and pediatric medicine, because these additional drugs (e.g. phencyclidine, ketamine, benzodiazepines, barbiturates) also suppress neuronal activity and drive developing neurons to commit suicide.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-45
Number of pages9
JournalDevelopmental Brain Research
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Dec 30 2003


  • Alcohol
  • Apoptosis
  • Development
  • Ethanol
  • GABAergic agents
  • GABAmimetics
  • NMDA glutamate antagonists
  • Phencyclidine
  • Synaptogenesis


Dive into the research topics of 'Drugs of abuse that cause developing neurons to commit suicide'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this