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Brain Res Dev Brain Res. 2001 Dec 14;132(1):23-31.

Effects of prenatal protein malnutrition and neonatal stress on CNS responsiveness.

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Neuroscience Program, Trinity College, Hartford, CT, USA.


Maturation of the nervous system and consequent behavior depends in part on prenatal nutritional factors and postnatal environmental stimulation. In particular, the hypothalamus and the hippocampus are two important CNS areas that are vulnerable to such pre- and postnatal manipulations. Therefore, the present study was undertaken to explore the effects of both prenatal protein malnutrition and neonatal isolation stress on hypothalamic and hippocampal functioning in infant rats. Specifically, we assessed the levels of plasma corticosterone, as well as dopamine, serotonin and their metabolites in both the hypothalamus and hippocampus in rat pups that had been prenatally malnourished (6% casein diet) and isolated from nest, dam, and siblings for 1 h daily during postnatal days (PND) 2 through 8. We found that on PND 9 malnourished pups weighed less, had smaller hypothalami and a suppressed corticosterone response to acute and chronic isolation stress. However, their dopamine metabolism in the hypothalamus was increased following acute isolation on PND 9 as seen in isolated controls. Prenatal protein malnutrition also resulted in a significant elevation in serotonin in both brain areas, increased 5HIAA in the hypothalamus, and decreased dopamine in the hippocampus. Repeated isolation caused a reduction in 5HIAA in both brain parts, but only in control pups. These pre- and postnatal challenges may each cause a specific pattern of modifications in the CNS and, in combination, may be additive, particularly in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) stress response and the serotonergic functioning in both the hypothalamus and hippocampus, a finding with important clinical implications.

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