Maternal cocaine treatment alters dynorphin and enkephalin mRNA expression in brains of fetal rhesus macaques

Lin Chai, Wan S. Choi, Oline K. Rönnekleiv

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Cocaine exposure in utero is known to cause a variety of behavioral and motor deficits that may be attributable to alterations in the dopamine neurocircuitry. To ascertain cocaine effects in the fetus, we developed a nonhuman primate model in which pregnant monkeys were administered cocaine from day 20 through day 60 or 70 of gestation. Fetuses from these pregnancies develop a repertoire of neural deficiencies, including decreased mRNA expression of tyrosine hydroxylase in the midbrain and increased mRNA expression of dopamine receptor subtypes in the rostral forebrain. Presently, we studied the effects of maternal cocaine treatment on the mRNA expression of the endogenous opioids preprodynorphin (PPD) and preproenkephalin (PPE) in fetal monkey brains. Fetuses exposed to saline (0.9%) or cocaine (3 mg/kg) were delivered by Caesarean section, the fetal brains were dissected, and tissue RNA was extracted and quantified using ribonuclease protection assay analysis. The opioid peptides PPD and PPE were expressed in the fetal monkey brain by day 60, and even higher levels were found in day 70 fetuses. Maternal exposure to cocaine increased gene expression of PPD and PPE in the fetus at both day 60 and day 70 of gestation. Dynorphin mRNA levels were significantly elevated in the striatum, whereas enkephalin mRNA was elevated in both the frontal cortex and the striatal area of fetuses whose mothers received cocaine. Changes in the expression of these opioid peptides in presumed dopamine target neurons, which mediate motivation and reward, as well as motor control, provide further evidence for profound consequences of in utero cocaine exposure on the developing dopamine neurocircuitry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1112-1121
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • cocaine
  • development
  • dynorphin mRNA
  • enkephalin mRNA
  • fetal monkey
  • frontal cortex
  • striatal area

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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