Learning and memory in rats gestationally and lactationally exposed to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD)

Neurotoxicol Teratol. 1999 May-Jun;21(3):231-9. doi: 10.1016/s0892-0362(98)00049-x.


Recently we reported that in utero and lactational exposure to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) or coplanar polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) resulted in a reduction of errors on a radial arm maze (RAM) working memory task. The effect was more pronounced in males than in females. In this study, we further investigated the effects of in utero and lactational exposure to TCDD on learning and memory by testing male and female TCDD-exposed rats on three different spatial learning and memory tasks: the RAM, the Morris water maze (MWM), and spatial discrimination-reversal learning (RL), as well as on a nonspatial learning task, visual RL. Time-mated Sprague-Dawley rats were gavaged with either TCDD (0.1 microg/kg/day) or corn oil vehicle on gestation days 10-16. Litters were culled to eight on day 2 and weaned on day 21. Beginning on day 80, one male and one female from each litter were tested on the same RAM working memory task used in the previous study. Again, the TCDD-exposed male rats displayed a pronounced decrease in errors relative to control males. Following the RAM testing, the same animals were tested on the MWM, but no differences between the exposed and control rats were observed. Another male and female from each litter were tested on spatial RL on a T-maze. There were no differences between the exposed and control rats on this task. Following spatial RL, the same rats were tested on visual RL on the same maze. The exposed animals did not differ from controls on original learning, but took more trials to reach criterion on the first and second reversals. These results demonstrate a reliable, but task-specific, facilitation of spatial learning and memory in male rats exposed to TCDD during gestation and lactation. In contrast, both male and female TCDD-exposed rats showed a deficit in learning on the visual RL task. This pattern is consistent with that seen in earlier monkey studies. Perinatally TCDD-exposed monkeys were facilitated on certain spatial tasks, but impaired on visual RL tasks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Discrimination Learning
  • Female
  • Lactation
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / drug effects*
  • Maze Learning / physiology
  • Memory / drug effects*
  • Memory / physiology
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins / toxicity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Space Perception


  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins