Late-life effects of chronic methamphetamine exposure during puberty on behaviour and corticostriatal mono-amines in social isolation-reared rats

Laetitia Strauss, Christiaan B. Brink, Marisa Möller, Dan J. Stein, Brian H. Harvey

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15 Scopus citations


Chronic methamphetamine (MA) abuse results in an acute psychosis indistinguishable from paranoid schizophrenia. However, less is known of the interaction between MA use and environmental insults, and how this contributes to late-onset psychopathology. Using social isolation rearing (SIR), a neurodevelopmental animal model of schizophrenia, we investigated the association between changes in corticostriatal mono-amines and putative behaviours related to MA-induced psychosis in isolation and group-housed rats following chronic MA or saline exposure. Weaned male offspring of MA-naive female Wistar rats, either group- or isolation-housed from postnatal day (PND) +21, received saline (2 ml/kg s.c. b.i.d.) or an escalating dose of MA (0.2-6 mg/kg s.c. b.i.d.) for 16 days from PND +35 to +50. On PND +78, offspring were tested for deficits in social interactive behaviour (SIB) and prepulse inhibition (PPI) of startle, with frontal cortex and striatum harvested for the assessment of mono-amine concentrations. SIR significantly reduced rearing time, staying together, approaching and anogenital sniffing (outward-directed SIB), but increased self-grooming and locomotor activity (self-directed SIB), and also induced profound deficits in PPI. Pubertal MA exposure in group-housed animals also induced similar alterations in outward- and self-directed SIB and reduced PPI. Combined MA + SIR exposure evoked a similarly intense behavioural response as SIR or MA separately, with no exacerbation evident. Neither treatment separately nor together affected corticostriatal serotonin or noradrenaline levels, although frontal cortical dopamine (DA) levels were significantly increased in SIR and MA + group-housed animals. A trend towards further elevated frontal cortical DA was noted in the MA + SIR treatment group. Striatal DA was unaltered by all treatments. This study provides the first evidence that chronic pubertal MA exposure evokes postpubertal psychosis-like behaviours in rats of similar intensity to that induced by a neurodevelopmental animal model of schizophrenia (SIR). Moreover, the study is unique in that these behavioural changes occur together with associated changes in frontal cortical but not striatal DA, without affecting other mono-amines, and strongly implicates frontal cortical DA changes in the psychotogenic effects of early-life MA exposure or environmental insult. Although MA exposure in animals with a history of environmental insult (i.e. MA + SIR) has similar effects, combined exposure was not additive with regard to behavioural or neurochemical changes. We conclude that a ceiling effect or compensatory mechanisms prevent more pronounced neurobehavioural deficits occurring following MA + SIR treatment, at least under the current study conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18-28
Number of pages11
JournalDevelopmental Neuroscience
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Cumulative risk
  • Dual diagnosis
  • Early-life adversity
  • Frontal cortex
  • Late-life psychopathology
  • Postweaning exposure
  • Stress
  • Striatum
  • Wistar rat


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