Effects of opioid-maintenance therapy during pregnancy on the maternal brain and the development of the offspring

The USA opioid crisis has led to an increase in pregnant women being treated with opioid-maintenance therapy (e.g. with buprenorphine). However, not much is known about the consequences of gestational exposure to maintenance opioids on fetal development or the maternal brain. Our translational animal model will investigate the effects of buprenorphine on pregnancy outcomes, offspring development and maternal brain and behavior. Female rats are treated with various doses of buprenorphine for 7 days before mating (to represent an established opioid user), and their respective treatment continues throughout pregnancy and the postpartum period. Our current results reveal that the high-dose buprenorphine exposure drastically reduced maternal care and leads to high pup mortality, while low-dose buprenorphine treatment results in only subtle though significant effects in adolescent offspring, suggesting that low (therapeutic) doses of buprenorphine, are relatively safe for the offspring; however, that high (overexposure) doses have devastating effects on maternal care and thus offspring survival. Our future studies will explore the underlying mechanisms behind our observed alterations in maternal behavior and offspring development to help create safer treatment option for opioid-dependent mothers.

PI: Dr. Susanne Brummelte & Dr. Scott Bowen
University: Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, USA

Website: Lab Page