Patients with schizophrenia display impaired cognitive functioning and increased sensitivity to psychomimetic drugs. The neurodevelopmental hypothesis of schizophrenia posits that disruption of the developing brain predisposes neural networks to lasting structural and functional abnormalities resulting in the emergence of such symptoms in adulthood. Given the critical role of the glutamatergic system in early brain development, we investigated whether chronic prenatal exposure to the glutamate NMDA receptor antagonist, MK-801, induces schizophrenia-like behavioural and neurochemical changes in juvenile and adult rats.Methods:
Pregnant Long–Evans rats were administered saline or MK-801 (0.1 mg/kg; s.c.) at gestation day 7–19. Object recognition memory and cognitive flexibility were assessed in the male offspring using a novel object preference task and a maze-based set-shifting procedure, respectively. Locomotor-activating effects of acute amphetamine and MK-801 were also assessed.Results:
Adult, but not juvenile, prenatally MK-801-treated rats failed to show novel object preference after a 90 min delay, suggesting that object recognition memory may have been impaired. In addition, the set-shifting task revealed impaired acquisition of a new rule in adult prenatally MK-801-treated rats compared to controls. This deficit appeared to be driven by regression to the previously learned behaviour. There were no significant differences in drug-induced locomotor activity in juvenile offspring or in adult offspring following acute amphetamine challenges. Unexpectedly, MK-801-induced locomotor activity in adult prenatally MK-801-treated rats was lower compared to controls.Conclusions:
Glutamate transmission dysfunction during early development may modify behavioural parameters in adulthood, though these parameters do not appear to model deficits observed in schizophrenia.