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Brain Struct Funct. 2008 Feb;212(5):403-16. doi: 10.1007/s00429-007-0169-6. Epub 2008 Jan 17.

The impact of maternal separation on adult mouse behaviour and on the total neuron number in the mouse hippocampus.

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Research Laboratory for Stereology and Neuroscience, Bispebjerg University Hospital, Bispebjerg Bakke 23, 2400, Copenhagen, NV, Denmark.


The maternal separation paradigm has been applied to C57BL/6J mice as an animal developmental model for understanding structural deficits leading to abnormal behaviour. A maternal separation (MS) model was used on postnatal day (PND) 9, where the pups were removed from their mother for 24 h (MS24). When the pups were 10 weeks old, the level of anxiety and fear was measured with two behavioural tests; an open field test and an elevated plus maze test. The Barnes platform maze was used to test spatial learning, and memory by using acquisition trials followed by reverse trial sessions. The MS24 mice spent more time in the open arms of the elevated plus maze compared to controls, but no other treatment differences were found in the emotional behavioural tests. However, in the reverse trial for the Barnes maze test there was a significant difference in the frequency of visits to the old goal, the number of errors made by the MS24 mice compared to controls and in total distance moved. The mice were subsequently sacrificed and the total number of neurons estimated in the hippocampus using the optical fractionator. We found a significant loss of neurons in the dentate gyrus in MS mice compared to controls. Apparently a single maternal separation can impact the number of neurons in mouse hippocampus either by a decrease of neurogenesis or as an increase in neuron apoptosis. This study is the first to assess the result of maternal separation combining behaviour and stereology.

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