Perinatal asphyxia is a concern for public health and may promote subtle neuropsychiatric disorders. Anoxic insults to neonatal rats cause long-lasting neurobehavioral deficits. In the present study, we focussed on changes in emotional behaviors as a consequence of neonatal asphyxia in Wistar rats. Newborn pups (24 h after birth) underwent a single 30-min exposure to a 100% N2 atmosphere (or air). The offspring was tested for a) locomotor and exploratory activity with or without a d-amphetamine challenge (0, 1, or 2 mg/kg) on postnatal day (pnd) 15; b) social interactions and novelty seeking during adolescence; c) levels of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). In the open-field test (pnd 15), N2-exposed pups injected with the high (2 mg/kg) amphetamine dose exhibited reduced levels of locomotor hyperactivity, and a more marked involvement in stereotyped behaviors. Individual differences emerged in the locomotor response to the novelty-seeking test: two subgroups of rats (separated on the basis of the median value) showed either arousal/attraction or avoidance/inhibition in response to free-choice novelty. The N2-exposed group showed a more marked novelty-induced avoidance and inhibition. Time devoted to allogrooming and play-soliciting behaviors was reduced, whereas object exploration was increased. Levels of BDNF were reduced in the striatum of N2-exposed rats, suggesting poorer synaptic performance of dopamine pathways. In conclusion, these findings suggest an increased risk of developing social withdrawal, neophobia and behavioral stereotypies (common symptoms found in schizophrenia and autism) as a consequence of neonatal asphyxia in preterm humans.
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