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Pre-term labor drug sensitizes brain to pesticide injury

DURHAM, N.C. -- A drug commonly prescribed to halt pre-term labor and stave off premature birth might leave the brains of children susceptible to other chemicals ubiquitously present in the environment, according to research conducted on laboratory animals by Duke University Medical Center pharmacologists. Their new study found that rats exposed to the pre-term labor drug terbutaline suffer greater brain cell damage than those not given the drug upon secondary exposure to the insecticide chlorpyrifos.

The double exposure caused damage to brain regions known to play a role in learning and memory, the team reported in the March 2004 issue of Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology. The result might therefore help to explain earlier suggestions that children whose mothers are administered terbutaline suffer cognitive deficits. The National Institutes of Health supported the research.

Premature labor occurs in approximately 20 percent of all pregnancies in the United States. Of those, an estimated 1 million women annually are treated with terbutaline or related drugs to halt the early contractions. The drugs administered to pregnant women also penetrate to the fetus where they affect brain development.

The work highlights the synergistic and unpredictable effects that exposure to multiple chemicals can have on the brain, said senior author of the study Theodore Slotkin, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology and cancer biology at Duke. Moreover, just as some gene variants confer heightened disease risk, the study suggests that certain early drug or chemical exposures can predispose people to particular ailments, he added.

"The adverse effects of sequential exposure to the two compounds on certain brain characteristics were more than the sum of the two agents' independent effects," Slotkin said. "Our findings suggest that exposure to drugs like terbutaline early in development can leave individuals set on a hair trigger for further problems when sub
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Contact: Kendall Morgan
kendall.morgan@duke.edu
919-684-4148
Duke University Medical Center
30-Mar-2004


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