Early life is a critical period for the development of the central nervous system (CNS) when the brain undergoes functional organization, neuronal proliferation and migration. This study aimed to evaluate influences and possible interactions of the neonatal handling (NH) on morphologic, biochemical and molecular markers in the hippocampus, as well as on Mu opioid receptors (MOR) immunoreactivity when adolescent rats were exposed to morphine. On postnatal day (PND) 1, male pups were assigned to two experimental groups: unhandled (UH) or neonatal handling (NH), whose procedure was applied from PND2 to PND9. On PND 50, animals were submitted to memory behavioral test, anesthesia and euthanasia for blood collection and hippocampus removal. Animals exposed to NH showed: i) increased levels of proBDNF and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF); ii) increased memory performance; iii) decreased lipid peroxidation (LP) in plasma and hippocampus; iv) increased antioxidant defenses; v) increased glucocorticoids receptor (GR) levels. Interestingly, our data showed a positive correlation between BDNF and working memory after NH procedure (r2 = 0.73; P = 0.006). Animals submitted to NH showed an increased per se of MOR immunoreactivity regardless of morphine exposure, while this increasing was also observed in the UH group after morphine exposure, even in a small extent. NH beneficial influence during early stage of life can be reflected during the development of the puppies, enhancing memory performance, preventing oxidative events and improving molecular targets in hippocampus. Further experimental studies in addition to clinical ones are needed to validate NH protocol as a therapeutic tool.
Keywords: HPA axis Morphine Mu opioid receptors Y-maze