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J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2012 Mar;340(3):558-66. doi: 10.1124/jpet.111.188862. Epub 2011 Nov 30.

Effects of neonatal antiepileptic drug exposure on cognitive, emotional, and motor function in adult rats.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology and Physiology, Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, DC 20057, USA.


Despite the potent proapoptotic effect of several antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) in developmental rodent models, little is known about the long-term impact of exposure during brain development. Clinically, this is of growing concern. To determine the behavioral consequences of such exposure, we examined phenobarbital, phenytoin, and lamotrigine for their effects on adult behaviors after administration to neonatal rats throughout the second postnatal week. AED treatment from postnatal days 7 to 13 resulted in adult deficits in spatial learning in the Morris water maze and decreased social exploration for all drugs tested. Phenobarbital exposure led to deficits in cued fear conditioning, risk assessment in the elevated plus maze, and sensorimotor gating as measured by prepulse inhibition, but it did not affect motor coordination on the rotorod task. In contrast, phenytoin and lamotrigine exposure led to impaired rotorod performance, but no deficits in sensorimotor gating. Phenytoin, but not lamotrigine or phenobarbital, increased exploration in the open field. Phenytoin and phenobarbital, but not lamotrigine, disrupted cued fear conditioning. These results indicate that AED administration during a limited sensitive postnatal period is sufficient to cause a range of behavioral deficits later in life, and the specific profile of behavioral deficits varies across drugs. The differences in the long-term outcomes associated with the three AEDs examined are not predicted by either the mechanism of AED action or the proapoptotic effect of the drugs. Our findings suggest that a history of AED therapy during development must be considered as a variable when assessing later-life cognitive and psychiatric outcomes.

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