Effects of prenatal morphine exposure on NK cytotoxicity and responsiveness to LPS in rats

Y. Shavit*, E. Cohen, R. Gagin, R. Avitsur, Y. Pollak, G. Chaikin, G. Wolf, R. Yirmiya

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Prenatal exposure to opiates can adversely affect fetal development resulting in long-term growth retardation and impairments in physiological and behavioral functions. In the present study we studied long-term effects of prenatal morphine exposure on immune functions, including the activity of natural killer (NK) cells and the febrile and behavioral responses to lipopolysaccharide (LPS). Pregnant Fischer 344 rats were given increasing doses of morphine in slow release emulsion during gestational days 12-18. Control rats were injected with vehicle and were either pair fed to morphine rats or fed ad lib. Postnatal experiments were conducted when offspring were 10-12 weeks old. Compared to both control groups rats prenatally exposed to morphine exhibited: 1) suppressed cytotoxic activity of NK cells: 2) reduced LPS-induced lever measured by a biotelemetric system; 3) reduced hyperalgesia measured by the hot-plate test at 30 min, and augmented hypoalgesia at 2 6 h post-LPS: 4) higher open-field activity in saline-treated animals, and more pronounced suppression of activity in LPS-injected animals: 5) LPS-induced reduction of food consumption, body weight, and social exploration, which did not differ from the reduction observed in control animals. These findings indicate that prenatal exposure 10 morphine in duces long-term impairment of host-defence mechanisms, which may render the offspring more susceptible to infectious diseases.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)835-841
Number of pages7
JournalPharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1998

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by a grant from the Israel Foundation Trustees (Y. S.). We thank Teva Pharmaceuticals Ltd (Israel) for the generous gift of morphine.


  • Fever
  • Hyperalgesia and hypoalgesia
  • Immunocompetence
  • LPS
  • Natural killer cell activity
  • Opiates
  • Prenatal morphine
  • Sickness behavior


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