Image_1_Mild Prenatal Stress Causes Emotional and Brain Structural Modifications in Rats of Both Sexes.TIF

Stress or high levels of glucocorticoids (GCs) during developmental periods is known to induce persistent effects in the neuroendocrine circuits that control stress response, which may underlie individuals’ increased risk for developing neuropsychiatric conditions later in life, such as anxiety or depression. We developed a rat model (Wistar han) of mild exposure to unpredictable prenatal stress (PS), which consists in a 4-h stressor administered three times per week on a random basis; stressors include strobe lights, noise and restrain. Pregnant dams subjected to this protocol present disrupted circadian corticosterone secretion and increased corticosterone secretion upon acute stress exposure. Regarding progeny, both young adult (2 months old) male and female rats present increased levels of circulating corticosterone and hyperactivity of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis to acute stress exposure. Both sexes present anxious- and depressive-like behaviors, shown by the decreased time spent in the open arms of the elevated plus maze (EPM) and in the light side of the light-dark box (LDB), and by increased immobility time in the forced swim test, respectively. Interestingly, these results were accompanied by structural modifications of the bed nucleus of stria terminalis (BNST) and hippocampus, as well as decreased norepinephrine and dopamine levels in the BNST, and serotonin levels in the hippocampus. In summary, we characterize a new model of mild PS, and show that stressful events during pregnancy can lead to long-lasting structural and neurochemical effects in the offspring, which affect behavior in adulthood.