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Physiol Behav. 1990 Feb;47(2):357-64.

Ontogeny of behavioral and hormonal responses to stress in prenatally stressed male rat pups.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin Medical School, Madison 53792.


Effects of prenatal stress on stress-induced behavioral and hormonal responses were investigated in preweanling rats at two ages. Prenatal stress treatments involved the application of uncontrollable electric shocks to pregnant rats every other day throughout gestation. Offspring of undisturbed rats in home cages served as controls. When male pups were 14 and 21 days old, ultrasonic vocalizations and freezing were recorded in 10-min tests involving isolation, and isolation with the application of electric foot shocks at either 0.5- or 2.0-mA intensity. Immediately before and after each test, tail-flick latencies were measured in order to assess alterations in stress-induced analgesia. Stress-induced secretion of ACTH was measured in plasma obtained after the second tail-flick test. Results indicated that 14-day-old prenatally stressed pups emitted significantly fewer ultrasonic vocalizations and exhibited significantly lower percent increases in tail-flick latencies than control pups. Plasma ACTH, however, was significantly elevated in prenatally stressed rats, suggesting that exposure to different tests was a stress-inducing event. At 21 days of age, prenatally stressed rats no longer differed significantly from control males in the exhibition of ultrasonic vocalizations, defensive freezing, and tail-flick latencies. Plasma ACTH content, however, was significantly lower in prenatally stressed than control males after exposure to the isolation with 2.0-mA shock test. The involvement of motivational, maturational, and mediational factors is examined in order to account for these age-dependent and stressor-dependent differences in behavioral and hormonal responses occurring between prenatally stressed and control pups.

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