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Synapse. 2011 Sep;65(9):955-61. doi: 10.1002/syn.20918. Epub 2011 Apr 7.

Cocaine alters dendritic spine density in cortical and subcortical brain regions of the postpartum and virgin female rat.

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Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education at The City College of New York, New York, New York 10031, USA.


Cocaine use during pregnancy induces profound neural and behavioral deficits in both mother and offspring. The present study was designed to compare the effects of cocaine exposure on spine density of postpartum and virgin female rat brains. Timed, pregnant, primiparous rats were injected with either cocaine (30 mg/kg) or saline, once daily, from gestational day 8 to 20. Twenty-four hours after giving birth, dam brains were processed for Golgi-impregnation. Virgin females were also injected with the same dose of cocaine or saline for 12 days and sacrificed 24 h after the last injection for comparison. Pregnant rats had significantly greater spine density in the medial amygdala (MeA) and medial preoptic area (MPOA) and lower spine density in CA1 than virgin females independent of cocaine treatment. Cocaine significantly increased dendritic spine density on the apical branch of pyramidal cells in the prefrontal cortex (PFC, 15%), both apical (13%) and basal (14.8%) branches of CA1 and cells in the MeA (28%) of pregnant rats. In the MPOA, cocaine administration resulted in a decrease in dendritic spine density (14%) in pregnant rats. In virgin females, cocaine had fewer effects but did increase dendritic spine density on both branches of CA1 neurons and in the MeA. The present study is the first to demonstrate that spine density differs between pregnant and virgin females and that pregnancy makes the brain more vulnerable to cocaine, which has important clinical implications.

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