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Neuropharmacology. 2012 Jun;62(7):2337-45. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2012.02.001. Epub 2012 Feb 15.

Neonatal exposure to phenobarbital potentiates schizophrenia-like behavioral outcomes in the rat.

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Douglas Mental Health University Institute, Department of Psychiatry, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


Previous work has indicated an association between seizures early in life and increased risk of psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia. However, because early-life seizures are commonly treated with antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) such as phenobarbital, the possibility that drug treatment may affect later-life psychiatric outcomes needs to be evaluated. We therefore tested the hypothesis that phenobarbital exposure in the neonatal rat increases the risk of schizophrenia-like behavioral abnormalities in adulthood. Thus, in this study, we examined the effects of a single acute neonatal exposure to phenobarbital on adult behavioral outcomes in the rat neonatal ventral hippocampal (nVH) lesion model of schizophrenia. We compared these outcomes to those in rats a) without nVH lesions and b) with nVH lesions, without phenobarbital. The tasks used for behavioral evaluation were: amphetamine-induced locomotion, prepulse inhibition, elevated plus-maze, and novel object recognition task. We found that neonatal phenobarbital treatment (in the absence of nVH lesions) was sufficient to disrupt sensorimotor gating (as tested by prepulse inhibition) in adulthood to an extent equivalent to nVH lesions. Additionally, neonatal phenobarbital exposure enhanced the locomotor response to amphetamine in adult animals with and without nVH lesions. Our findings suggest that neonatal exposure to phenobarbital can predispose to schizophrenia-like behavioral abnormalities. Our findings underscore the importance of examining AED exposure early in life as a potential risk factor for later-life neuropsychiatric abnormalities in clinical populations.

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