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Horm Behav. 2007 Mar;51(3):321-7. Epub 2006 Dec 22.

Maternal glucocorticoid deficit affects hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal function and behavior of rat offspring.

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  • 1Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, The Asher Center, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Chicago, IL 60611, USA.


Detrimental consequences of prenatal stress include increased hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) function, anxiety and depression-like behavior in adult offspring. To identify the role of maternal corticosterone milieu in the fetal programming of adult function, we measured these same behavioral and hormonal endpoints after maternal adrenalectomy (ADX) and replacement with normal or moderately high levels of corticosterone (CORT). Adult male and female offspring exhibited differing HPA responses to maternal ADX. In female offspring of ADX mothers, exaggerated plasma ACTH stress responses were reversed by the higher, but not the lower, dose of maternal CORT. In contrast, male offspring of both ADX and ADX dams with higher CORT replacement showed exaggerated ACTH stress responses. Hypothalamic glucocorticoid receptor (GR) expression was decreased in these latter groups, while hippocampal GR increased only in the ADX offspring. Activity of young offspring of ADX dams replaced with the higher dose of CORT decreased in the open field test of exploration/anxiety, while immobility behavior of adult offspring in the forced swim test of depression increased following maternal ADX or higher levels of CORT replacement. Interestingly, for some measures, none or moderately high CORT replacement resulted in similar deficits in this study. These findings are in accord with consequences of prenatal stress or prenatal dexamethasone exposure, suggesting that a common mechanism may underlie the effects of too low or too high maternal glucocorticoids on adult HPA function and behavior.

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