Mid- to late gestational morphine exposure does not alter the rewarding properties of morphine in adult male rats

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Prenatal exposure to drugs of abuse often leads to physiological and neurobiological abnormalities including decreased brain and body weight, cognitive deficits and behavioral alterations. A handful of studies showed increased vulnerability to drug abuse in prenatally drug-exposed offspring. Our work also demonstrated that prenatal exposure to analgesic doses of morphine during gestation days 11–18 increases μ-opioid receptor density in the nucleus accumbens and central amygdala of adult male rats. Both the nucleus accumbens and central amygdala play important roles in modulating drug-induced reward via the mesolimbic dopaminergic system. Therefore, two types of behavioral paradigms were used to test the hypothesis that the same prenatal morphine exposure would enhance the rewarding effects of morphine, making drug-exposed offspring more vulnerable to abuse this drug in adulthood. All experiments were performed with adult male offspring of saline-injected, morphine-injected or non-injected (control) dams. (1) The unbiased conditioned place preference (CPP) paradigm was used to investigate whether prenatal morphine exposure sensitizes adult male rats to non-contingent morphine reward. These adult animals were conditioned with 0.1, 0.3, 1, 3 or 5 mg/kg morphine. All control, prenatally saline- and morphine-exposed male rats preferred the morphine-paired compartment relative to the saline-paired compartment. However, the magnitude of morphine CPP in adult male rats was not dependent on the conditioning dose of morphine or prenatal morphine exposure. (2) Intravenous morphine self-administration was used to assess the behavioral response to contingent morphine reward. Each rat self-administered one of four doses of morphine (0.3, 1, 2 or 3 mg/kg/infusion). Morphine self-administration was not altered in prenatally morphine-exposed adult male offspring. Control males self-administered significantly less morphine at the lowest dose of morphine than both prenatally saline- and morphine-exposed males. Although our data show that prenatal exposure to an analgesic dose of morphine during the time of opioid receptor appearance does not enhance morphine CPP or self-administration, they do not exclude the possibility that this prenatal morphine exposure enhances the rewarding properties of other drugs of abuse.

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