Long-term learning deficits and changes in unlearned behaviors following in utero exposure to multiple daily doses of cocaine during different exposure periods and maternal plasma cocaine concentrations

Charles V. Vorhees, Tracy M. Reed, Karen D. Acuff-Smith, Mary A. Schilling, Gregg D. Cappon, J. Edward Fisher, Cunfeng Pu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

59 Scopus citations


Although the possible behavioral neurotoxic effects of in utero exposure to cocaine have been the subject of numerous experiments, only a limited number of different types of animal models of cocaine exposure, critical periods, or long-term effects of such exposures have been investigated. In the present experiment, the effects of multiple daily SC exposures to cocaine (20 mg/kg/dose × 5 doses per day) were investigated when administered to gravid Sprague-Dawley CD rats on embryonic days E7-12 or E13-18 compared to weight-matched, vehicle injected, pair-fed controls. Effects of exposure were assessed on general development, olfactory orientation behavior, early locomotion, startle reactivity, spontaneous motor activity, and learning on two different tasks (Morris and Cincinnati water mazes). The multiple cocaine dosing regimen produced maternal peak serum concentrations of cocaine 3 times higher than that of a single dose (∼ 1550 vs. ∼550 ng/mL). Early-exposed cocaine offspring had lower olfactory orientation scores and reduced postweaning rearing and hole-poke motor activity, whereas late-exposed cocaine offspring had increased postweaning locomotor, rearing, and hole-poke activity. On the Morris hidden platform maze, the cocaine early-exposed females had longer latencies on acquisition than controls. On the Cincinnati multiple-T water maze, the early-exposed cocaine females and the late-exposed cocaine males had increased errors, whereas the early-exposed cocaine males had reduced errors. The effects on measures of learning, when taken together, and in light of their being in the early-exposed group, suggest that embryonic cocaine exposure may have subtle effects on cognition in the offspring as adults. Such effects represent a form of neurotoxicity not previously associated with prenatal cocaine exposure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)253-264
Number of pages12
JournalNeurotoxicology and Teratology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 1995


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Toxicology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

Cite this