Perinatal Treatments with the Dopamine D2-Receptor Agonist Quinpirole Produces Permanent D2-Receptor Supersensitization: A Model of Schizophrenia

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Repeated daily treatments of perinatal rats with the dopamine D2-receptor (D2-R) agonist quinpirole for a week or more produces the phenomenon of ‘priming’—gradual but long-term sensitization of D2-R. In fact a daily dose of quinpirole as low as 50 µg/kg/day is adequate for sensitizing D2-R. Primed rats as neonates and in adolescence, when acutely treated with quinpirole display enhanced eating/gnawing/nursing on dams, also horizontal locomotor activity. Between 3 and 5 weeks of age, acute quinpirole treatment of primed rats produces profound vertical jumping with paw treading—a behavior that is not observed in control rats. At later ages acute quinpirole treatment is associated with enhanced yawning, a D2-R-associated behavior. This long-term D2-R supersensitivity is believed to be life-long, despite the relatively brief period of D2-R priming near the time of birth. D2-R supersensitivity is not associated with an increase in the number or affinity of D2-R, as assessed in the striatum of rats; nor is it induced with the D3-R agonist 7-OH-DPAT. However, quinpirole-induced D2-R supersensitivity is associated with cognitive deficits, also a deficit in pre-pulse inhibition and in neurotrophic factors, and low levels of the transcript regulator of G-protein signaling (RGS) RGS9 in brain; and acute reversal of these alterations by the antipsychotic agent olanzapine. In sum, rats ontogenetically D2-R supersensitized have face validity, construct validity and predictive ability for schizophrenia.