Pediatr Res, February 2015.
Feng Y, Kumar P, Wang J, Bhatt AJ


Background: The use of dexamethasone (Dex) in premature infants to treat or prevent chronic lung disease adversely affects neurodevelopment. Recent clinical studies suggest that hydrocortisone (HC) is a safer alternative to Dex. We compared the effects of Dex and HC on neurotoxicity in newborn rats.

Methods: Rat pups of a neurodevelopmental stage equivalent to premature human neonates were administered Dex or HC either as a single dose on postnatal day (PD) 6, repeated doses on PD 4 to 6 or tapering doses at PD 3 to 6 by i.p. injection. Brain weight, caspase-3 activity, and apoptotic cells were measured at PD 7; learning capability, memory and motor function were measured at juvenile age.

Results: Dex decreased both body and brain weight gain, while HC did not. Tapering and repeated doses of Dex increased caspase-3 activity, cleaved caspase-3 and TUNEL positive cells but HC, except at high doses, did not. Dex impaired learning and memory capability at juvenile age, while the rats exposed to HC showed normal cognitive behavior.

Conclusions: HC is probably safer to use than Dex in the immediate postnatal period in neonatal rats. Cautious extrapolation of these findings to human premature infants is required.

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