, Volume 79, Issue 4, pp 332-337

Prenatal diazepam exposure: Effects on auditory temporal resolution in rats

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The maturation of temporal acuity in the auditory system of the rat was evaluated following prenatal exposure to diazepam (DZ; 0, 2.5, 10 mg/kg to the dam on each of the last 8 days of gestation). Acuity was defined by the effectiveness of brief silent periods in white noise (gaps) as inhibitors of an immediately subsequent acoustic startle reflex. In uninjected control rats the gaps became effective at 25–28 days of age, and onset was delayed in prenatally exposed animals according to dose. No DZ was present in the rat fffspring at this time of testing. Injections of DZ were given to these same animals in adulthood (0, 0.5, 1.5, 4.5 mg/kg). These injections reduced the inhibitory effect of the gap on startle behavior in all animals, but less so in those previously exposed to DZ in utero. The threshold of temporal acuity in the rat approximates that found in humans and the function matures at the same relative rate in the two species. Further, administration of DZ in the adult human has the same effect on temporal acuity in the auditory system as it does in the adult rat. There are presently no data available on the effects on human auditory development of exposure to DZ in utero. The data we present have considerable relevance for clinical investigation given the importance of temporal acuity in the perception of speech and, thus, in the maturation of language ability.