Prenatal restraint stress and motherless rearing disrupts expression of plasticity markers and stress-induced corticosterone release in adult female Sprague–Dawley rats
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This study investigated the effects of prenatal stress and complete maternal deprivation, using the artificial rearing (AR) paradigm, on the expression of neural plasticity markers and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis responsivity to stress. Rats were exposed to stress during gestation (day 10-21) and postnatally were either artificially reared (AR) or mother reared (MR). AR involves complete separation of the pup from both the dam and the litter throughout the pre-weaning period. In adulthood, we measured levels of corticosterone (CORT) in response to restraint stress. Also, we examined the expression of synaptophysin (SYN) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and the nucleus accumbens (Nacc), areas of the brain that mediate behavioral activation and attention, among other behaviors. Earlier work on the same rats indicated that these behavioral endpoints, such as locomotor activity and sensorimotor gating, are affected by our prenatal and postnatal manipulations. Prenatal stress decreased CORT at 20 and 90 min post-stressor in MR, but not in AR, animals. Also, in comparison to MR groups, AR decreased SYN and BDNF expression in the MPFC and Nacc. Additional somatosensory 'licking-like' stroking stimulation partially reversed the effects of AR. Prenatal stress did not have a robust main effect but affected the impact of the postnatal rearing condition on SYN expression and stress-induced CORT. These results suggest that both prenatal and postnatal adversities have an influence on HPA axis responsivity and alter the expression of plasticity related neuronal proteins.
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