Effects of motherless rearing on basal and stress-induced corticosterone secretion in rat pups
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Rearing of rat pups without a mother, artificial rearing (AR), produces substantial changes in the pups' behavior in later life. These changes are similar to those produced by the stress of repeated mother-pup separations. The predominant interpretation is that the long-term effects of disruptions to the mother-pup relationship are mediated by exposure to elevated levels of corticosterone which affect the development of neurobiological systems underlying cognition and behavior. Indeed, repeated separation of pups from the mother sensitizes the pups' corticosterone response to stress. This study examined basal and stress-induced corticosterone release in AR pups. Corticosterone levels were increased immediately following implantation of feeding cannulae. One day after the start of AR, circulating concentrations of corticosterone were not increased unless AR pups were challenged with an additional stressor (injection). Corticosterone levels were lowest when cannulation and AR started on postnatal day (PND) 5 compared with earlier PNDs. On PND 12, there was no evidence of increased corticosterone levels in AR pups at baseline or in response to stress, indicating that AR did not result in persistent sensitization of corticosterone release. The long-term effects of motherless rearing on rat behavior are mediated by mechanisms that are independent of sustained early corticosterone exposure.
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