Intravenous Prenatal Nicotine Exposure Alters METH-Induced Hyperactivity, Conditioned Hyperactivity, and BDNF in Adult Rat Offspring

Ryan T. Lacy, Russell W. Brown, Amanda J. Morgan, Charles F. MacTutus, Steven B. Harrod

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


In the USA, approximately 15% of women smoke tobacco cigarettes during pregnancy. In utero tobacco smoke exposure produces somatic growth deficits like intrauterine growth restriction and low birth weight in offspring, but it can also negatively influence neurodevelopmental outcomes in later stages of life, such as an increased incidence of obesity and drug abuse. Animal models demonstrate that prenatal nicotine (PN) alters the development of the mesocorticolimbic system, which is important for organizing goal-directed behavior. In the present study, we determined whether intravenous (IV) PN altered the initiation and/or expression of methamphetamine (METH)-induced locomotor sensitization as a measure of mesocorticolimbic function in adult rat offspring. We also determined whether PN and/or METH exposure altered protein levels of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) in the nucleus accumbens, the dorsal striatum, and the prefrontal cortex of adult offspring. BDNF was of interest because of its role in the development and maintenance of the mesocorticolimbic pathway and its ability to modulate neural processes that contribute to drug abuse, such as sensitization of the dopamine system. Dams were injected with IV nicotine (0.05 mg/kg/injection) or saline, 3×/day on gestational days 8-21. Testing was conducted when offspring reached adulthood (around postnatal day 90). Following 3 once daily habituation sessions the animals received a saline injection and baseline locomotor activity was measured. PN and prenatal saline (PS)-exposed offspring then received 10 once daily injections of METH (0.3 mg/kg) to induce locomotor sensitization. The animals received a METH injection (0.3 mg/kg) to assess the expression of sensitization following a 14-day period of no injections. A day later, all animals were injected with saline and conditioned hyperactivity was assessed. Brain tissue was harvested 24 h later. PN animals habituated more slowly to the activity chambers compared to PS controls. PN rats treated with METH showed significant enhancement of locomotor behavior compared to PS rats following acute and repeated injections; however, PN did not produce differential initiation or expression of behavioral sensitization. METH produced conditioned hyperactivity, and PN rats exhibited a greater conditioned response of hyperactivity relative to controls. PN and METH exposure produced changes in BDNF protein levels in all three regions, and complex interactions were observed between these two factors. Logistic regression revealed that BDNF protein levels, throughout the mesocorticolimbic system, significantly predicted the difference in the conditioned hyperactive response of the animals: both correlations were significant, but the predicted relationship between BDNF and context-elicited activity was stronger in the PN (r = 0.67) compared to the PS rats (r = 0.42). These findings indicate that low-dose PN exposure produces long-term changes in activity and enhanced sensitivity to the locomotor effects of METH. The enhanced METH-induced contextual conditioning shown by the PN animals suggests that offspring of in utero tobacco smoke exposure have greater susceptibility to learn about drug-related conditional stimuli, such as the context. The PN-induced alterations in mesocorticolimbic BDNF protein lend further support for the hypothesis that maternal smoking during pregnancy produces alterations in neuronal plasticity that contribute to drug abuse vulnerability. The current findings demonstrate that these changes are persistent into adulthood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)171-185
Number of pages15
JournalDevelopmental Neuroscience
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016


  • BDNF
  • Conditioned hyperactivity
  • Intravenous exposure
  • Locomotor sensitization
  • Methamphetamine
  • Prenatal nicotine
  • Rat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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