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Administering opioids to pregnant mice alters behavior and gene expression in offspring

Prenatal exposure to oxycodone impairs physical activity and social behavior, even in adulthood

Society for Neuroscience

Research News


IMAGE: Correlation of behavioral results with gene expression in male mice. view more 

Credit: Martin et al., eNeuro 2021

Mice exposed to the opioid oxycodone before birth experience permanent changes in behavior and gene expression. The new research published in eNeuro highlights a need to develop safer types of painkillers for pregnant women.

Opioids like oxycodone are prescribed to pregnant women to treat pain, but the drugs may affect the fetus, too. Opioids can pass through the placenta, binding to receptors in the fetal brain, which can lead to opioid withdrawal in newborn babies. The long-term consequences of prenatal opioid exposure haven't been fully studied, however.

To explore this, Martin et al. administered oxycodone to female mice every day for the two weeks prior to and throughout the duration of their pregnancy. The team administered a range of behavioral tests on the offspring during weaning and later in adulthood. The offspring exposed to oxycodone during gestation showed signs of impaired social behaviors and communication. They were also larger and less active than the control mice. The research team examined the gene expression of opioid receptors in the offspring. In the hippocampus, a region involved in learning and memory, one type of receptor increased in male mice while a different receptor decreased in female mice. These results reveal prenatal opioid exposure can have lifelong effects on offspring.


Paper title: Maternal Oxycodone Treatment Results in Neurobehavioral Disruptions in Mice Offspring

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About eNeuro

eNeuro is an online, open-access journal published by the Society for Neuroscience. Established in 2014, eNeuro publishes a wide variety of content, including research articles, short reports, reviews, commentaries and opinions.

About The Society for Neuroscience

The Society for Neuroscience is the world's largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1969, now has nearly 37,000 members in more than 90 countries and over 130 chapters worldwide.

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