Prenatal oxycodone exposure impairs spatial learning and/or memory in rats

Behav Brain Res. 2010 Sep 1;212(1):27-34. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2010.03.022. Epub 2010 Mar 20.


Recent changes in demographic patterns of drug use have resulted in the increased non-medical use of prescription opiates. These users are younger and more likely to be female, which has the potential for increasing rates of in utero exposure. Therefore, we developed a rat model that simulates a prescription opiate-dependent woman who becomes pregnant. Adult female Sprague-Dawley rats were treated for 30 days via oral gavage with ascending doses of oxycodone HCl up to a final dose of 15mg/kg/day, which was maintained during breeding and gestation. Controls were treated with water. The adult male offspring of these treated dams were tested on the radial arm maze, the Morris water maze (with a short and a long intertrial interval), and a spatial T-maze. Prenatal oxycodone exposure led to a deficit in the radial arm maze characterized by a greater number of reference memory errors, especially in the beginning of testing. In contrast, in the T-maze, prenatal oxycodone-exposed rats learned the task as well as well as the prenatal water controls. However, they had a modest deficit in retention of the task when assessed 5 days after acquisition training ended. For the Morris water maze, the intertrial interval affected the pattern of learning. While there was no deficit when the training had a short intertrial interval, when there was a long intertrial interval, prenatal oxycodone-exposed rats had poorer acquisition. The spatial learning deficit was characterized by and increased latency to find and a greater distance traveled to the platform in the prenatal oxycodone-exposed rats. These data were corroborated by analysis of the behavioral search strategy, which showed a decreased use of spatial strategies and an increase in non-spatial strategies, especially wall-hugging, in prenatal oxycodone-exposed rats as compared to prenatal water control rats on day 2 of acquisition. These results indicate that prenatal oxycodone exposure consistently impairs learning and memory in a battery of spatial tasks.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Female
  • Learning Disabilities / etiology*
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / drug effects
  • Maze Learning / physiology
  • Memory Disorders / etiology*
  • Oxycodone*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / chemically induced*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / physiopathology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley


  • Oxycodone