Postnatal Effects of Prenatal Exposure to Psychoactive Drugs

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Exposure to anxiolytic drugs during the third week of gestation in the rat leaves a lasting imprint on the organism. Functionally, animals exposed prenatally to diazepam (Valium) demonstrate alterations in arousal-attention and stress-related functions. Neural systems underlying these functions are also influenced by the early exposure. The effects of early diazepam exposure are related to the interaction of the drug in utero with specific binding sites in the fetal brain. The consequences of the early exposure, however, often do not become evident until after a period of normal development and become most apparent as the organism reaches young adulthood (late adolescence). These observations suggest that changes that take place in an organism during puberty are necessary for full expression of the effects of prenatal diazepam exposure. Furthermore, the results implicate perinatal insults at the molecular level in the etiology of behavioral disorders that emerge during adolescence.


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Carol K. Kellogg, Ph.D.

Carol Kellogg received the Ph.D. in Physiology-Neurobiology in 1970. She currently holds the position of Professor in Psychology and Associate Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Rochester, Rochester, NY. Her research is directed towards understanding neural development and related behavioral development. The author gratefully acknowledges the following individuals who participated in the studies reported: Daniel Bitran, Jane A. Chisholm, Ronnie Guillet, Norma Harary, James R. Ison, Rajesh Miranda, Richard K. Miller, Gloria Pleger, Renee Primus, Todd M. Retell, Steven M. Shamah, Roy D. Simmons, Alan T. Sullivan, Donna M. Tervo, and Joseph P. Wagner. Research reported in this paper was supported by PHS grant MH 31850 and by Research Scientist Development Award MH 00651, both from the National Institute of Mental Health. Diazepam and Ro 15-1788 were generously supplied by Dr. William Scott and Dr. Peter Sorter, Hoffmann-LaRoche, Nutley, New Jersey. Special thanks are extended to Prof. Dale McAdam for editorial assistance in the preparation of this manuscript. Address correspondence to the Department of Psychology, University of Rochester, Room 186 Meliora Hall, Rochester, NY 14627.