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Brain Res. 2006 May 4;1087(1):142-50. Epub 2006 Apr 13.

Early life stress impairs fear conditioning in adult male and female rats.

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Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, VA-CT Hospital System, 950 Campbell Ave., Building 5, 3rd Floor, West Haven, CT 06516, USA.


We demonstrated that neonatal isolation (1-h pup isolation; postnatal days 2-9) impairs context-induced fear conditioning in adult male rats and tends to enhance this effect and foot shock sensitivity in females. In this study, we examine the effects of brief (i.e., handling; 15 min) and prolonged (3 h) maternal separations (postnatal days 1-21) on fear conditioning and foot shock sensitivity in adult male and female rats. Identical training and test conditions from our prior study were employed so comparisons of the three early life stressors could be made. Context- and cue-elicited freezing and ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs; 22 kHz) were measured after 10 tone-shock training trials in Experiment 1. In Experiment 2, foot shock responses (flinch, jump, sonic vocalizations) to escalating shock levels were assessed. Brief maternal separation impaired context- and cue-conditioned fear in rats of both sexes as assessed by USVs. Prolonged maternal separation only impaired context fear in female rats. There were no effects on foot shock sensitivity. Results of this and other studies suggest that early life stress impairs fear conditioning in adult rats whereas stress experienced in adulthood has the opposite effect. These opposing effects may reflect developmental differences on stress-induced alterations on hippocampal regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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