Perinatal exposure of rats to the HIV drug efavirenz affects medial prefrontal cortex cytoarchitecture.Biochem Pharmacol. 2020 Aug; 178:114050.BP
Efavirenz (EFV) is used for antiretroviral treatment of HIV infection, and successfully inhibits viral replication and mother-to-child transmission of HIV during pregnancy and childbirth. Unfortunately, the drug induces neuropsychiatric symptoms such as anxiety and depressed mood and potentially affects cognitive performance. EFV acts on, among others, the serotonin transporter and serotonin receptors that are expressed in the developing brain. Yet, how perinatal EFV exposure affects brain cytoarchitecture remains unclear. Here, we exposed pregnant and lactating rats to EFV, and examined in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) of their adult offspring the effects of the maternal EFV exposure on cortical architecture. We observed a significant decrease in the number of cells, mainly mature neurons, in the infra/prelimbic and cingulate cortices of adult offspring. Next, we found an altered cortical cytoarchitecture characterized by a significant reduction in deep- and superficial-layer cells. This was accompanied by a sharp increase in programmed cell death, as we identified a significantly higher number of cleaved Caspase-3-positive cells. Finally, the serotonergic and dopaminergic innervation of the mPFC subdomains was increased. Thus, the perinatal exposure to EFV provoked in the mPFC of adult offspring cell death, significant changes in cytoarchitecture, and disturbances in serotonergic and dopaminergic innervation. Our results are important in the light of EFV treatment of HIV-positive pregnant women, and its effect on brain development and cognitive behavior.