Associations between parenting behavior and anxiety in a rodent model and a clinical sample: relationship to peripheral BDNF levels
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Adverse early-life environment is associated with anxiety-like behaviors and disorders. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is sensitive to this environment and could be a marker of underlying brain changes. We aimed at evaluating the development of anxiety-like behaviors in a rat model of early adversity, as well as the possible association with BDNF levels. Similar associations were investigated in a sample of adolescent humans. For the rat study, Wistar rat litters were divided into: early-life stress (ELS, limited access to nesting material) and control groups. Maternal behavior was observed from days 1 to 9 of life and, as adults, rats were subjected to behavioral testing and BDNF measurements in plasma, hippocampus, amygdala and periaqueductal gray. For the human study, 129 adolescents were evaluated for anxiety symptoms and perceived parental care. Serum BDNF levels and the Val66Met polymorphism of the BDNF gene were investigated. We found that ELS dams showed more pure contact, that is, contact with low care and high control, toward pups, and their adult offspring demonstrated higher anxiety-like behaviors and plasma BDNF. Also the pure contact correlated positively with adult peripheral BDNF. Similarly in humans, there was a positive correlation between maternal overprotection and serum BDNF only in Met carriers. We also found negative correlations between maternal warmth and separation anxiety, social phobia and school phobia. Finally, our translational approach revealed that ELS, mediated through variations in maternal care, is associated with anxiety in both rats and humans and increased peripheral BDNF may be marking these phenomena.
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