Increased brain size and cellular content in infant rats treated with an opiate antagonist

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Science  16 Sep 1983:
Vol. 221, Issue 4616, pp. 1179-1180
DOI: 10.1126/science.6612331


From birth to day 21, rat offspring received daily injections of naltrexone at a dosage that blocked morphine-induced analgesia 24 hours a day. At 21 days, body, brain, and cerebellar weights of naltrexone-injected animals were 18, 11, and 5 percent greater than corresponding control weights. In addition, morphometric analysis of the cerebrum revealed a somatosensory cortex that was 18 percent thicker than that of the controls. The cerebellum of naltrexone-treated rats was 41 percent larger in total area and contained at least 70 percent more glial cells and 30 percent more granule neurons. Neurons derived prenatally were unaffected by drug treatment. These results show that naltrexone can stimulate body and brain growth in rats and suggest a role for the endorphin and opiate receptor system in development.