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Physiol Behav. 2004 Mar;81(1):71-84.

The effects of postnatal maternal separation on stress responsivity and experimentally induced colitis in adult rats.

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Department of Biological and Medical Psychology, University of Bergen, Jonas Liesvei 91, 5009 Bergen, Norway.


In this study, we investigated the effects of three neonatal conditions on adult corticosterone (CORT) levels, acoustic startle responses (ASRs), and vulnerability to colitis induced by dextran sulfate sodium (DSS) and how these early manipulations might interact with a brief stress exposure in adulthood on the same measures. Infant animals were subjected daily to either 180-min maternal separation [prolonged maternal separation (LMS)], 10-min maternal separation [brief maternal separation (BMS)], or nonhandling (NH) conditions during postnatal days 1-14. As adults, half of the animals were exposed to a series of 10 uncontrollable foot shocks. Animals were tested for CORT levels prior to and 10 days following shock/nonshock procedures before being tested for ASRs. Finally, all animals were exposed to 4% DSS in their drinking water for 6 days. LMS animals showed enhanced vulnerability to DSS-induced colitis when previously exposed to shock and enhanced stress reactivity responses as shown by elevated startle and CORT levels. Among the nonshocked animals, NH animals showed most colonic damage. Taken together, the results support previous findings suggesting that BMS has a protective effect on adult stress exposure. Additionally, BMS protects the animals from chemically induced colitis. The NH condition has clearly an effect on sensitizing mucosal response to DSS exposure.

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