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Neurotoxicol Teratol. 2007 Sep-Oct;29(5):570-7. Epub 2007 Jun 30.

A meta-analysis of animal studies on disruption of spatial navigation by prenatal cocaine exposure.

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  • 1Behavioral Pharmacology Research Laboratory, McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School, 115 Mill Street, Belmont, MA 02478, USA.


Water-maze testing has been used to assess prenatal cocaine (PCOC)-induced deficits in behavioral studies of spatial navigation and memory abilities. Effects of PCOC in acquisition or in probe trials over water-maze testing days were rarely detected. Despite an absence of effects of PCOC when data were collapsed over multiple days, there was a potential difference when examined during the first day of acquisition training, characterized by a PCOC-associated decrease in learning efficiency but not capacity. Here, we review studies of PCOC-related changes in day-1 water-maze acquisition training and examine the relationship between experimental methodologies and PCOC-treatment procedures and the variability in effect size estimates across studies. The results revealed a significant increase in latencies to goal platform on acquisition training day-1 in PCOC-exposed offspring vs. controls (effect size: r=0.44). Significant effects attributable to variations in the PCOC-treatment procedures across studies were also identified. The moderating variable of PCOC "dose" was significant as lower doses of PCOC exposure yielded larger treatment effects. "Duration" of PCOC exposure was not significant, although a trend for greater effects was observed in studies that employed longer daily treatment schedules or schedules administered in later gestational periods. This analysis identified a consistent difference in acquisition training day-1 of water-maze testing in PCOC-exposed offspring indicating a PCOC-induced deficiency in spatial learning. These findings of impaired spatial learning efficiency are of particular interest given clinical scenarios involving acutely impaired spatial memory and related learning in PCOC-exposed children that highlight the potential consequences in classroom learning.

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