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Genes Brain Behav. 2006 Jun;5(4):346-54.

Effects of repeated maternal separation on prepulse inhibition of startle across inbred mouse strains.

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Section on Behavioral Science and Genetics, Laboratory for Integrative Neuroscience, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, MD 20852, USA.


A growing body of research implicates genetic factors and childhood trauma in the etiology of neuropsychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia. However, there remains little understanding of how genetic variation influences early life stress to affect later disease susceptibility. Studies in rats have shown that postnatal maternal separation (MS) results in later deficits in prepulse inhibition of the acoustic startle response (PPI), an impairment in sensorimotor gating found in schizophrenic patients. In the present study, genetic differences in the effects of repeated MS on PPI were examined in eight inbred strains of mice (129S1/SvImJ, 129P3/J, A/J, BALB/cJ, BALB/cByJ C57BL/6J, DBA/2J and FVB/NJ). Mice were assigned to either MS (180 min/day on postnatal days P0-P13), 'handling' (15 min/day, P0-P13) or facility-reared conditions and tested for PPI at 12 weeks of age. Results demonstrated major strain differences in the production of viable offspring irrespective of MS, leading to the exclusion of 129P3/J, A/J and BALB/cJ from the study. Pups from the five remaining strains exhibited marked differences in the acoustic startle response and PPI, confirming previous strain comparisons. However, MS produced no significant effects on PPI in any of the strains tested. A second form of postnatal stress (repeated footshock) also failed to alter PPI in the one strain studied, C57BL/6J. Present results demonstrate that the form of MS studied herein does not provide a robust model of early life stress effects on PPI in the mouse strains tested. The development and validation of a reliable mouse model of early life stress remains an important research goal.

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