α-Tocopherol, the main component of vitamin E, is well known to be a radical scavenger, so an increased intake of vitamin E is recommended in complicated pregnancy, to prevent possible fetus damage by free radical. In a previous work, we found that maternal α-tocopherol supplementation affects PKC-mediated cellular signaling and hippocampal synaptic plasticity in developing brain; the latter effect persists in adulthood. Here, adult rats maternally exposed to supranutritional doses of α-tocopherol were evaluated for Contextual Fear Conditioning and spatial learning in Morris Water Maze, two different hippocampus-dependent learning tasks. Moreover, anxiety, spontaneous activity, and explorative drive were also evaluated as factors potentially affecting learning performance. Treated rats showed a different behavior with respect to controls: performance in Contextual Fear Conditioning was improved, while spatial learning tested in Morris Water Maze, was impaired. The improvement of fear response was not ascribable to differences in anxiety level and/or spontaneous activity; thus it appears to be a specific effect of α-tocopherol overloading during brain development. On the contrary, the impaired performance in Morris Water Maze exhibited by treated rats can be in part explained by their enhanced explorative drive. Although extrapolation from rats to humans is difficult, a caveat in assuming supranutritional doses of vitamin E in pregnancy arises from this study.
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