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Stress. 2001 Sep;4(3):169-81.

Hormonal and behavioural abnormalities induced by stress in utero: an animal model for depression.

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Neumsciences du Comportement, Universite‘ de Lille I , 59655 Klleneuve d’Ascq, France.


Prenatal stress in rats can exert profound influence on the off spring's development, inducing abnormalities such as increased "anxiety", "emotionality" or "depression-like" behaviours.Prenatal stress has long-term effects on the development of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal(HPA) axis and forebrain cholinergic systems. These long-term neuroendocrinological effects are mediated, at least in part, by stress-induced maternal corticosterone increase during pregnancy and stress-induced maternal anxiety during the postnatal period. We have shown a significant phase advance in the circadian rhythms of corticosterone secretion and locomotor activity in prenatally-stressed (PNS) rats. When subjected to an abrupt shift in the light-dark(LD) cycle, PNS rats resynchronized their activity rhythm more slowly than control rats. In view of the data suggesting abnormalities in the circadian timing system in these animals, we have investigated the effects of prenatal stress on the sleep-wake cycle in adult male rats. PNS rats exhibited various changes in sleep-wake parameters, including a dramatic increase in the amount of paradoxical sleep. Taken together, our results indicate that prenatal stress can induce increased responses to stress and abnormal circadian rhythms and sleep in adult rats.Various clinical observations in humans suggest a possible pathophysiological link between depression and disturbances in circadian rhythmicity. Circadian abnormalities in depression can be related to those found in PNS rats. Interestingly, we have recently shown that the increased immobility in the forced swimming test observed in PNS rats can be corrected by chronic treatment with the antidepressant tianeptine, or with melatonin or S23478, a melatonin agonist. Those results reinforce the idea of the usefulness of PNS rats as an appropriate animal model to study human depression and support a new antidepressant-like effect of melatonin and the melatonin agonist S23478.

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