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Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2002 Aug;73(1):105-14.

Maternal corticosterone influences behavior, stress response and corticosteroid receptors in the female rat.

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  • 1Department of Human Physiology and Pharmacology, University La Sapienza P.le Aldo Moro 5, Rome, Italy.


In infancy, glucocorticoids have been shown to affect hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity and behavior. Both the activity of the HPA axis and many aspects of behavior exhibit important gender-dependent differences physiologically. In our previous studies, male offspring of hypercorticosteronemic mothers show long-lasting changes of learning as well as adrenocortical activity. In the light of these findings, this study aims to determine the long-term effects of glucocorticoids in the early stages of life in female rats. Corticosterone (200 microg/ml) was added to the drinking water of the dams. Female offspring exhibited lower adrenocortical secretory response to stress, improvement in learning (water maze at 21, 30 and 90 days; active avoidance at 15 months) and reduced fearfulness in anxiogenic situations (dark-light test at 1 and 15 months; conditioned suppression of drinking at 3 months; plus maze at 15 months) after weaning, from 21 days up to 15 months of age, but not before. No difference in hippocampal adrenocorticoid receptors was observed. These results, together with previous data on male offspring, show that the outcomes of maternal hypercorticosteronemia on hormonal stress response and behavior are similar in males and females, but the effects on some aspects of the HPA axis activity are gender-dependent. Possible explanations for these differences are discussed.

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