Perinatal Fentanyl Exposure Leads to Long-Lasting Impairments in Somatosensory Circuit Function and Behavior

Jason B. Alipio, Catherine Haga, Megan E. Fox, Keiko Arakawa, Rakshita Balaji, Nathan Cramer, Mary Kay Lobo, Asaf Keller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


One consequence of the opioid epidemic are lasting neurodevelopmental sequelae afflicting adolescents exposed to opioids in the womb. A translationally relevant and developmentally accurate preclinical model is needed to understand the behavioral, circuit, network, and molecular abnormalities resulting from this exposure. By employing a novel preclinical model of perinatal fentanyl exposure, our data reveal that fentanyl has several dose-dependent, developmental consequences to somatosensory function and behavior. Newborn male and female mice exhibit signs of withdrawal and sensory-related deficits that extend at least to adolescence. As fentanyl exposure does not affect dams' health or maternal behavior, these effects result from the direct actions of perinatal fentanyl on the pups' developing brain. At adolescence, exposed mice exhibit reduced adaptation to sensory stimuli, and a corresponding impairment in primary somatosensory (S1) function. In vitro electrophysiology demonstrates a long-lasting reduction in S1 synaptic excitation, evidenced by decreases in release probability, NMDA receptor-mediated postsynaptic currents, and frequency of miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents (mEPSCs), as well as increased frequency of miniature inhibitory postsynaptic currents (mIPSCs). In contrast, anterior cingulate cortical neurons exhibit an opposite phenotype, with increased synaptic excitation. Consistent with these changes, electrocorticograms (ECoGs) reveal suppressed ketamine-evoked c oscillations. Morphologic analysis of S1 pyramidal neurons indicate reduced dendritic complexity, dendritic length, and soma size. Further, exposed mice exhibited abnormal cortical mRNA expression of key receptors involved in synaptic transmission and neuronal growth and development, changes that were consistent with the electrophysiological and morphologic changes. These findings demonstrate the lasting sequelae of perinatal fentanyl exposure on sensory processing and function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3400-3417
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number15
StatePublished - Apr 14 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Medicine


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