Effects of prenatal cocaine exposure on the developing hippocampus: intrinsic and synaptic physiology

J Neurophysiol. 1997 Jan;77(1):126-36. doi: 10.1152/jn.1997.77.1.126.


A variety of neurological complications has been reported in infants exposed to cocaine during gestation. In the present study, intrinsic cell properties of hippocampal neurons from CA1, CA3, and dentate gyrus regions were measured and compared in tissue from neonatal rats exposed to saline or cocaine in utero. Synaptic properties of the CA1 pyramidal cell region were analyzed at postnatal day (P) 20 with the use of extracellular and intracellular recording techniques. In vitro intracellular recordings (n = 223) obtained at P10, P15 and P20 in tissue from cocaine- and saline-exposed animals revealed no differences in standard cell properties such as resting membrane potential, input resistance, time constant, and action potential amplitude or duration. Hippocampal slices from cocaine-exposed animals exhibited a marked reduction of spike frequency adaptation for all three types of principal hippocampal neurons (e.g., CA1, CA3, and granule cells). The amplitudes of afterhyperpolarizations following a spike train were also decreased in CA1 and CA3 cells in tissue from cocaine-exposed animals. Extracellular and intracellular recordings in the CA1 pyramidal cell region at P20 were obtained to assess and compare synaptic function in tissue from cocaine- and saline-exposed animals. In hippocampal slices from cocaine-exposed animals, synaptic responses in the CA1 region were characterized by multiple population spike activity and reduced inhibitory postsynaptic potentials. The reduction in fast inhibitory postsynaptic potential conductance was not associated with a change in reversal potential. These results suggest that gestational cocaine exposure induces significant changes in intrinsic and synaptic electrophysiological properties of hippocampal neurons in the developing animal. The cell and synaptic features are consistent with an increase in hippocampal excitability, which may contribute to the neurobehavioral deficits and epileptogenic predisposition reported in this infant population. As such, this in utero drug exposure model may provide a useful system in which to elucidate and study the basic cellular mechanisms underlying neurological complications associated with maternal cocaine abuse.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Cocaine / toxicity*
  • Electrophysiology
  • Extracellular Space / physiology
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / drug effects
  • Hippocampus / growth & development*
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Narcotics / toxicity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Pyramidal Cells / physiology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Synapses / drug effects
  • Synapses / physiology*


  • Narcotics
  • Cocaine