Neonatal animal models of opiate withdrawal

ILAR J. 2006;47(1):39-48. doi: 10.1093/ilar.47.1.39.


The symptoms of opiate withdrawal in infants are defined as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). NAS is a significant cause of morbidity in term and preterm infants. Factors, such as polysubstance abuse, inadequate prenatal care, nutritional deprivation, and the biology of the developing central nervous system contribute to the challenge of evaluating and treating opiate-induced alterations in the newborn. Although research on the effects of opiates in neonatal animal models is limited, the data from adult animal models have greatly contributed to understanding and treating opiate tolerance, addiction, and withdrawal in adult humans. Yet the limited neonatal data that are available indicate that the mechanisms involved in these processes in the newborn differ from those in adult animals, and that neonatal models of opiate withdrawal are needed to understand and develop effective treatment regimens for NAS. In this review, the behavioral and neurochemical evidence from the literature is presented and suggests that mechanisms responsible for opiate tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal differ between adult and neonatal models. Also reviewed are studies that have used neonatal rodent models, the authors' preliminary data based on the use of neonatal rat and mouse models of opiate withdrawal, and other neonatal models that have been proposed for the study of neonatal opiate withdrawal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System / drug effects
  • Central Nervous System / growth & development*
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Mice*
  • Narcotics / adverse effects*
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome / metabolism
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Rats*
  • Receptors, AMPA / metabolism
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / metabolism


  • Narcotics
  • Receptors, AMPA
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate