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Stress. 2001 Sep;4(3):157-67.

Effects of maternal stress on development and behaviour in rat offspring.

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Department of Pharmacology, School of Pharmacy, Hebrew University Hadassah School of Medicine, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem 91120, Israel.


Retrospective studies suggest that gestational stress in humans can delay the attainment of developmental milestones, increase the incidence of allergic reactions and respiratory infections and cause behavioural abnormalities in the children. Our studies and others have shown that prenatal stress in rats can mimic several of these developmental and behavioural alterations. These include a suppression of immune function, but also enhanced sensitivity to allergens. Prenatally-stressed rats, like children, show a reduced propensity for social interaction and increased anxiety in intimidating or novel situations. They have physiological and behavioural alterations consistent with depressive symptoms, including a phase-shift in their circadian rhythm for corticosterone, sleep abnormalities, and greater acquisition of learned helplessness under appropriate conditions. Prenatally-stressed male rats also show demasculinisation and feminisation of their sexual behaviour. The developmental and behavioural abnormalities in prenatally-stressed offspring may be mediated by alterations in the activity of endogenous opioids or neurosteroids, since several of them can be corrected by maternal administration of an opioid antagonist or by drugs like diazepam and allopregnanolone that modulate GABA transmission.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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