Summary. Blood samples were taken from conscious, chronically-catheterized rats during parturition for measurement of oxytocin by specific radioimmunoassay. After the birth of the 3rd pup, rats were allowed to remain in their nesting cage (undisturbed rats) or were transferred for 45 min to a glass bowl (disturbed rats); at the time of transfer, rats were given an i.v. injection of the opioid antagonist naloxone or saline vehicle. Subsequent parturition was prolonged in saline-treated disturbed rats, but not in naloxone-treated disturbed rats. Parturition was significantly hastened in naloxonetreated undisturbed rats. Naloxone injections were followed by a large rise in plasma oxytocin concentrations in disturbed and undisturbed rats. We conclude, from a statistical analysis of the relationship within experimental groups between plasma oxytocin concentration and speed of parturition, that the effects of disturbance and of naloxone upon parturition may be accounted for, at least in part, by their effects upon oxytocin release. However, the effects of disturbance on parturition may not be mediated entirely by activation of opioid pathways. Naloxone did not potentiate oxytocin release in nonpregnant rats, or on Day 1 post partum, but did potentiate oxytocin release on Day 22 of pregnancy even in rats before the onset of parturition. Endogenous opioid pathways regulating oxytocin release therefore appear to be active during late pregnancy and during parturition itself.
Keywords: opioids; oxytocin; parturition; naloxone; environmental disturbance; rat
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