HPA axis dysregulation following prenatal opiate exposure and postnatal withdrawal

Kathryn L. Hamilton, Andrew C. Harris, Jonathan C. Gewirtz, Sheldon B. Sparber, Lisa M. Schrott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


We examined the effects of prenatal exposure to the long acting opiate l-alpha-acetylmethadol (LAAM) followed by postnatal withdrawal on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis reactivity in neonatal and adult rats and anxiety-like behavior in adult rats. Female rats were treated with LAAM (0, 0.2, or 1.0 mg/kg/day) via oral gavage for 28 days prior to and continuing throughout pregnancy. Pups were fostered at birth to nontreated, lactating dams and underwent opiate withdrawal. On postnatal day (PND) 18, prenatal opiate-exposed male and female rat pups displayed a decreased corticosterone response 2 h after the application of an immunological stressor and 15 min following a social stressor compared to controls. In contrast, in adulthood, prenatal opiate-treated rats showed a heightened corticosterone response compared to prenatal water-treated controls at 3 h, but not 8 h, following an immunological stressor. Males prenatally treated with 1.0 mg/kg LAAM displayed elevated startle responding compared to the other prenatally treated male groups, but there was no effect of prenatal treatment in females. There were no effects of prenatal treatment in the open field test in either sex. These results suggest that prenatal opiate exposure followed by postnatal withdrawal dysregulated the HPA axis response to stressors in the neonate and adult and differentially affected adult anxiety-like behavior in males and females.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)95-103
Number of pages9
JournalNeurotoxicology and Teratology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2005

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported, in part, by USPHS grants T32 DA 07097 (support of KLH and ACH) and K01 DA 00362 (LMS).

Copyright 2008 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Acoustic startle
  • Anxiety
  • HPA axis
  • LAAM
  • Prenatal opiate


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