Prenatal stress increases adult vulnerability to cocaine reward without affecting pubertal anxiety or novelty response

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Prenatal stress (PS) induces long-lasting molecular alterations in brain circuits of the offspring and increases the propensity to develop neuropsychiatric diseases during adulthood, including mood disorders and drug addiction. A major goal of this study was to assess the impact of PS on pubertal behaviour and adult vulnerability to cocaine-induced conditioning place preference (CPP). We therefore evaluated pubertal novelty response and anxiety-like behaviour in control (C) and PS rats, and then, we examined cocaine-induced CPP in those animals during adulthood. We found no differences between C and PS groups on pubertal behaviour, however, only PS rats showed a significant cocaine-induced CPP. To further analyze our results, we classified cocaine-treated rats regarding their CPP score in Low CPP or High CPP and we then analysed their pubertal behaviour. We found different relations of anxiety-like behaviour to cocaine reward as a function of PS exposure: for C group, High CPP and Low CPP had shown similar levels of anxiety-like behaviour at puberty; on the contrary, for PS group, High CPP had shown lower anxiety-like behaviour than Low CPP rats. This study underscores the importance of considering prenatal exposure to stress when analysing the relationship between anxiety and cocaine vulnerability. Moreover, the evaluation of behavioural traits at puberty opens the possibility of early intervention and will allow the development of specific prevention strategies to avoid the devastating consequences of drug addiction later in life.

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