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Physiol Behav. 2007 Jan 30;90(1):108-15. Epub 2006 Oct 25.

Psychosocial maternal stress during pregnancy affects serum corticosterone, blood immune parameters and anxiety behaviour in adult male rat offspring.

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  • 1Department of Animal Physiology, University of Bayreuth, Universitätsstrasse 30, D-95440 Bayreuth, Germany.


Exposure to prenatal stress can impair the behavioural and hormonal development in mammals. However, the consequences for the immune system are rarely investigated and there is only limited evidence that naturalistic prenatal stressors do also have the potential to affect the offspring. Thus, by using a social conflict model in female Long-Evans rats, we investigated the effects of prenatal social stress on several behavioural, hormonal and immunological parameters. Offspring from stressed and non-stressed pregnant females were housed in pairs after weaning, and tested at an age of 4-6 months. Prenatally stressed (PS) males were more active in the elevated plus-maze test as indicated by significantly more frequent entries into the open arms compared to prenatal control males (PC). In addition, PS males had significantly lower serum corticosterone concentrations under basal conditions as well as after ACTH-challenge. The basal number of total leukocytes was significantly lower in the PS group due to significantly lower lymphocyte counts. In particular, the CD4+ T-helper cell subset was affected. The lymphocyte proliferation to pokeweed mitogen was lower in PS males. Because some of the present findings do not correspond to previous studies using conventional stressors, we assume that the nature of the stressor plays an important role for pregnancy outcome and behaviour and physiology of the offspring in later life.

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