Impaired spatial learning and hyperactivity in developing rats exposed to intermittent hypoxia

Pediatr Res. 2002 Sep;52(3):449-53. doi: 10.1203/00006450-200209000-00024.


Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a frequent medical condition and is associated with cognitive impairments in adults and with hyperactivity and decreased school performance in children. In an adult rodent model, intermittent hypoxia (IH), such as occurs in OSA, is associated with neurodegenerative changes in the hippocampus and cortex and with spatial learning deficits. Because a unique developmental window of neural vulnerability to IH is present, we hypothesized that exposure to IH throughout the vulnerable ages would result in increased behavioral impairments in the juvenile rat. Rat pups were therefore exposed to either room air or IH beginning at postnatal (PN) d 10 until PN d 30. Learning and memory were assessed via a standard place-training version of the Morris water maze beginning at PN d 25. Locomotor activity was assessed on PN d 29 and 30. Pups exposed to IH displayed significant spatial learning impairments, and exposed male rats but not female rats displayed increased locomotor activity in the open field. Collectively, these findings indicate that exposure to IH at an age that corresponds to the peak incidence of OSA in children induces substantial learning impairment and gender-dependent behavioral hyperactivity in the juvenile rat. We postulate that this novel experimental model may allow for future exploration of mechanisms underlying the neurobehavioral deficits of children with OSA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hyperkinesis*
  • Hypoxia*
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / physiology*
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Oxygen / metabolism
  • Pregnancy
  • Psychomotor Disorders
  • Rats
  • Spatial Behavior / physiology*


  • Oxygen