Effects of Prenatal Cocaine Exposure on Behavior During the Early Postnatal Period

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Cocaine, Gestational exposure, Rat pups, Classical conditioning, Locomotor activity, Wall climbing, Reflex development, Physical maturation

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Offspring of Sprague-Dawley dams injected SC with 40 mg/kg/3 cc cocaine HCl daily from gestational days 8–20, pair-fed dams injected with the vehicle alone and nontreated control dams were examined behaviorally during the early postnatal period. No significant differences were observed among the treatment conditions in maternal weight gain during pregnancy, duration of pregnancy, or number of live male and female pups/litter. Offspring body weights at birth and weaning, physical maturation and reflex development were not significantly affected by prenatal cocaine exposure. In contrast, neonates exposed prenatally to cocaine were observed to exhibit significant deficits in learning of an odor/milk association that nontreated offspring learned and retained for a 24 hr period. On postnatal day 12, cocaine offspring exhibited an increase in locomotor activity and attenuated wall climbing precipitated by footshock, in the absence of any alteration in sensitivity to footshock. Given that wall climbing has been previously shown to be strongly related to levels of catecholamine activity at this age, these data suggest the possibility that there may be some attenuation in catecholaminergic function in pups exposed gestationally to cocaine. The results of this study provide evidence that prenatal cocaine exposure may have an impact upon behavioral and cognitive function even during the early postnatal period. More work is needed to fully characterize the range of alterations observed and the neural mechanisms underlying these early exposure effects.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Neurotoxicology and Teratology, v. 11, issue 1, p. 57-63