expert reaction to rat study looking at antioxidant treatment in pregnant rats and memory in adult rat offspring


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A study published in FASEB J looks at maternal antioxidant treatment during pregnancy and memory function in adult rat offspring.

Prof Kevin McConway, Emeritus Professor of Applied Statistics, The Open University, said:

“The study in rats in this research is informative and useful, but the implication in the press release that we might be near to having a treatment in human mothers than can deal with memory problems in their children is very misleading indeed.  What the researchers actually did is to carry out work in rats that clarifies the mechanisms in the body by which low oxygen in the womb might affect memory function in offspring, and to show that a particular intervention using vitamin C as an antioxidant with the rat mothers could prevent those mechanisms from operating.  But this is still a long way from a treatment that could work in human mothers.  Also, the evidence that the vitamin C treatment has an effect in the cognitive tasks that some of the baby rats did, to test their learning, memory, exploration behaviours, and anxiety-related behaviour, is not strong statistically.  On one of the two tasks used, no clear differences were found at all between rats whose mothers had different treatments.  On the other, despite what the press release says, there seems to be no evidence that rats from pregnancies with low oxygen levels took longer to perform the memory task, though there is a certain amount of evidence that they did not remember as well, and that this effect could be removed to some extent by giving the mother vitamin C.  The evidence on differences in the brains of the offspring is statistically stronger and clearer.



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