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PLoS One. 2011;6(9):e24033. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0024033. Epub 2011 Sep 21.

Early life stress enhancement of limbic epileptogenesis in adult rats: mechanistic insights.

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Department of Medicine, Royal Melbourne Hospital, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia.



Exposure to early postnatal stress is known to hasten the progression of kindling epileptogenesis in adult rats. Despite the significance of this for understanding mesial temporal lobe epilepsy (MTLE) and its associated psychopathology, research findings regarding underlying mechanisms are sparse. Of several possibilities, one important candidate mechanism is early life 'programming' of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis by postnatal stress. Elevated corticosterone (CORT) in turn has consequences for neurogenesis and cell death relevant to epileptogenesis. Here we tested the hypotheses that MS would augment seizure-related corticosterone (CORT) release and enhance neuroplastic changes in the hippocampus.


Eight-week old Wistar rats, previously exposed on postnatal days 2-14 to either maternal separation stress (MS) or control brief early handling (EH), underwent rapid amygdala kindling. We measured seizure-induced serum CORT levels and post-kindling neurogenesis (using BrdU). Three weeks post-kindling, rats were euthanized for histology of the hippocampal CA3c region (pyramidal cell counts) and dentate gyrus (DG) (to count BrdU-labelled cells and measure mossy fibre sprouting). As in our previous studies, rats exposed to MS had accelerated kindling rates in adulthood. Female MS rats had heightened CORT responses during and after kindling (p<0.05), with a similar trend in males. In both sexes total CA3c pyramidal cell numbers were reduced in MS vs. EH rats post-kindling (p = 0.002). Dentate granule cell neurogenesis in female rats was significantly increased post-kindling in MS vs. EH rats.


These data demonstrate that early life stress results in enduring enhancement of HPA axis responses to limbic seizures, with increased hippocampal CA3c cell loss and augmented neurogenesis, in a sex-dependent pattern. This implicates important candidate mechanisms through which early life stress may promote vulnerability to limbic epileptogenesis in rats as well as to human MTLE and its associated psychiatric disorders.

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