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Life Sci. 2014 May 28;104(1-2):1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2014.04.006. Epub 2014 Apr 15.

Behavioral effects of perinatal opioid exposure.

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Institute of Experimental Medicine, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, Hungary; János Szentágothai School of Neurosciences, Semmelweis University, Budapest, Hungary.
Department of Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapy, Semmelweis University, Budapest, Hungary.
Institute of Experimental Medicine, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, Hungary. Electronic address:


Opioids are among the world's oldest known drugs used mostly for pain relief, but recreational use is also widespread. A particularly important problem is opioid exposure in females, as their offspring can also be affected. Adverse intrauterine and postnatal environments can affect offspring development and may lead to various disabilities later in life. It is clear that repetitive painful experiences, such as randomly occurring invasive procedures during neonatal intensive care, can permanently alter neuronal and synaptic organization and therefore later behavior. At the same time, analgesic drugs can also be harmful, inducing neuronal apoptosis or withdrawal symptoms in the neonate and behavioral alterations in adulthood. Hence, risk-benefit ratios should be taken into consideration when pain relief is required during pregnancy or in neonates. Recreational use of opioids can also alter many aspects of life. Intrauterine opioid exposure has many toxic effects, inducing poor pregnancy outcomes due to underdevelopment, but it is believed that later negative consequences are more related to environmental factors such as a chaotic lifestyle and inadequate prenatal care. One of the crucial components is maternal care, which changes profoundly in addicted mothers. In substance-dependent mothers, pre- and postnatal care has special importance, and controlled treatment with a synthetic opioid (e.g., methadone) could be beneficial. We aimed to summarize and compare human and rodent data, as it is important to close the gap between scientific knowledge and societal policies. Special emphasis is given to gender differences in the sensitivity of offspring to perinatal opioid exposure.


Gender difference; Methadone; Morphine; Pain killer; Street drug; Stress

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