Effects of prenatal cocaine and heroin exposure on neuronal dendrite morphogenesis and spatial recognition memory in mice

Neurosci Lett. 2012 Aug 1;522(2):128-33. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2012.06.023. Epub 2012 Jun 22.


Cocaine and heroin are psychoactive substances frequently used by woman abusers of childbearing age. In this study, we used in utero electroporation labeling technique and novelty recognition models to evaluate the effects of prenatal exposure of mice to cocaine or heroin on the morphological development of cortical neurons and postnatal cognitive functions. Our results showed that prenatal cocaine exposure increased dendrite outgrowth, and prenatal heroin exposure decreased dendrite length and branch number in pyramidal neurons in the somatosensory cortex. Furthermore, although no effects of prenatal cocaine or heroin exposure on novel object recognition were observed, offspring prenatally exposed to cocaine exhibited no exploration preference for objects placed in novel locations, and mice prenatally exposed to heroin showed a reduced tendency of exploration for objects in novel locations. These data demonstrate that maternal cocaine or heroin administration during pregnancy causes morphological alterations in pyramidal neurons in the somatosensory cortex and suggest that prenatal administration of addictive substances may impair short-term spatial memory in adult offspring.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology
  • Cocaine / toxicity*
  • Dendrites / pathology*
  • Electroporation
  • Exploratory Behavior
  • Female
  • Heroin / toxicity*
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange
  • Memory
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred ICR
  • Morphogenesis
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / pathology*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / psychology
  • Psychotropic Drugs / toxicity*
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Space Perception


  • Psychotropic Drugs
  • Heroin
  • Cocaine