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Buprenorphine, methadone, and morphine treatment during pregnancy: behavioral effects on the offspring in rats

Authors Chen H, Chiang Y, Yuan ZF, Kuo C, Lai M, Hung T, Ho I, Chen S

Received 3 July 2014

Accepted for publication 6 November 2014

Published 6 March 2015 Volume 2015:11 Pages 609—618

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/NDT.S70585

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Dr Roger Pinder


Hwei-Hsien Chen,1,2,* Yao-Chang Chiang,3,4,* Zung Fan Yuan,5,6 Chung-Chih Kuo,5,6 Mei-Dan Lai,2 Tsai-Wei Hung,1 Ing-kang Ho,1,3,4 Shao-Tsu Chen2,7

1Center for Neuropsychiatric Research, National Health Research Institutes, Miaoli County, Taiwan; 2Master and PhD Program in Pharmacology and Toxicology, Tzu Chi University, Hualien, Taiwan; 3Center for Drug Abuse and Addiction, China Medical University Hospital, 4Graduate Institute of Clinical Medical Science, China Medical University, Taichung, Taiwan; 5Master Program in Physiological and Anatomical Medicine, 6Department of Physiology, School of Medicine, Tzu Chi University, 7Department of Psychiatry, Buddhist Tzu Chi General Hospital, Hualien, Taiwan

*These authors contributed equally to this work


Abstract: Methadone and buprenorphine are widely used for treating people with opioid dependence, including pregnant women. Prenatal exposure to opioids has devastating effects on the development of human fetuses and may induce long-term physical and neurobehavioral changes during postnatal maturation. This study aimed at comparing the behavioral outcomes of young rats prenatally exposed to buprenorphine, methadone, and morphine. Pregnant Sprague-Dawley rats were administered saline, morphine, methadone, and buprenorphine during embryonic days 3–20. The cognitive function, social interaction, anxiety-like behaviors, and locomotor activity of offsprings were examined by novel object recognition test, social interaction test, light–dark transition test, elevated plus-maze, and open-field test between 6 weeks and 10 weeks of age. Prenatal exposure to methadone and buprenorphine did not affect locomotor activity, but significantly impaired novel object recognition and social interaction in both male and female offsprings in the same manner as morphine. Although prenatal exposure to methadone or buprenorphine increased anxiety-like behaviors in the light–dark transition in both male and female offsprings, the effects were less pronounced as compared to that of morphine. Methadone affected elevated plus-maze in both sex, but buprenorphine only affected the female offsprings. These findings suggest that buprenorphine and methadone maintenance therapy for pregnant women, like morphine, produced detrimental effects on cognitive function and social behaviors, whereas the offsprings of such women might have a lower risk of developing anxiety disorders.

Keywords: prenatal, buprenorphine, methadone, cognitive function, social behavior, anxiety

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