Reversal of prenatal diazepam-induced deficit in a spatial-object learning task by brief,periodic maternal separation in adult rats.

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In the rat, prenatal exposure to diazepam (DZ) induces a permanent reduction in GABA/BZ receptor (R) function and behavioural abnormalities. Environmental modifications during early stages of life can influence brain development and induce neurobiological and behavioural changes throughout adulthood. Indeed, a subtle, periodic, postnatal manipulation increases GABA/BZ R activity and produces facilitatory effects on neuroendocrine and behavioural responses. We here investigated the impact of prenatal treatment with DZ on learning performance in adult 3- and 8-month-old male rats and the influence of a brief, periodic maternal separation on the effects exerted by prenatal DZ exposure. Learning performance was examined employing a non-aversive spatial, visual and/or tactile task, the "Can test". Behavioural reactivity, emotional state and fear/anxiety-driven behaviour were also examined using open field (OF), acoustic startle reflex (ASR) and elevated plus-maze (EPM) tests. A single daily injection of DZ (1.5 mg/kg, s.c.), over gestational days (GD) 14-20, induced, in an age-independent manner, a severe deficit in learning performance, a decrease in locomotor and explorative activity and an increase in peak amplitude in the ASR. Furthermore, anxiety-driven behaviour in EPM was disrupted. Daily maternal separation for 15 min over postnatal days 2-21 exerted opposite effects in all the paradigms examined. Prenatally DZ-exposed maternal separated rats, in contrast to respective non-separated rats, showed an improvement in learning performance, a decrease in emotionality and a normalization of the exploratory behaviour in EPM. These results suggest that a greater maternal care, induced by separation, can serve as a source for the developing brain to enhance neuronal plasticity and to prevent the behavioural abnormalities induced by prenatal DZ exposure. © 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)320-330
Number of pages11
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
Publication statusPublished - 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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