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Eur J Neurosci. 2002 Apr;15(7):1187-96.

Sub-chronic treatment with classical but not atypical antipsychotics produces morphological changes in rat nigro-striatal dopaminergic neurons directly related to "early onset" vacuous chewing.

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Neuroscienze S.c.a.r.l., and B.B. Brodie Department of Neuroscience, University of Cagliari, Italy.


In the present work, we investigated if an impairment of dopaminergic neurons after subchronic haloperidol treatment might be a possible physiopathologic substrate of the "early onset" vacuous chewing movements (VCMs) in rats. For this purpose, different antipsychotics were used to analyse a possible relationship between VCMs development and morphological alterations of tyrosine-hydroxylase-immunostained (TH-IM) neurons. Rats treated twice a day with haloperidol displayed a significant increase of VCMs that was both time- (2-4 weeks) and dose (0.1-1 mg/kg) dependent. Immunocytochemical analysis showed a shrinkage of TH-IM cell bodies in substantia nigra pars compacta and reticulata and a reduction of TH-immunostaining in the striatum of haloperidol treated rats with the arising of VCMs. No differences were observed in TH-IM neurons of ventral tegmental area and nucleus accumbens vs. control rats. The atypical antipsychotics risperidone (2 mg/kg, twice a day), amisulpride (20 mg/kg, twice a day) and clozapine (10 mg/kg, twice a day) did not produce any nigro-striatal morphological changes or VCMs. TH-IM nigro-striatal neuron morphological alterations and VCMs were still present after three days of withdrawal in rats treated for four weeks with haloperidol (1 mg/kg). Both the main morphological changes and the behavioural correlate disappeared after three weeks of withdrawal. These results suggest that haloperidol induces a morphological impairment of the dopaminergic nigro-striatal neurons which is directly associated with the arising, permanency and disappearance of VCMs in rats.

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