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Dev Neurosci. 2015;37(3):203-14. doi: 10.1159/000374108. Epub 2015 Mar 17.

Maternal Style Selectively Shapes Amygdalar Development and Social Behavior in Rats Genetically Prone to High Anxiety.

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Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Ala., USA.


The early-life environment critically influences neurodevelopment and later psychological health. To elucidate neural and environmental elements that shape emotional behavior, we developed a rat model of individual differences in temperament and environmental reactivity. We selectively bred rats for high versus low behavioral response to novelty and found that high-reactive (bred high-responder, bHR) rats displayed greater risk-taking, impulsivity and aggression relative to low-reactive (bred low-responder, bLR) rats, which showed high levels of anxiety/depression-like behavior and certain stress vulnerability. The bHR/bLR traits are heritable, but prior work revealed bHR/bLR maternal style differences, with bLR dams showing more maternal attention than bHRs. The present study implemented a cross-fostering paradigm to examine the contribution of maternal behavior to the brain development and emotional behavior of bLR offspring. bLR offspring were reared by biological bLR mothers or fostered to a bLR or bHR mother and then evaluated to determine the effects on the following: (1) developmental gene expression in the hippocampus and amygdala and (2) adult anxiety/depression-like behavior. Genome-wide expression profiling showed that cross-fostering bLR rats to bHR mothers shifted developmental gene expression in the amygdala (but not hippocampus), reduced adult anxiety and enhanced social interaction. Our findings illustrate how an early-life manipulation such as cross-fostering changes the brain's developmental trajectory and ultimately impacts adult behavior. Moreover, while earlier studies highlighted hippocampal differences contributing to the bHR/bLR phenotypes, our results point to a role of the amygdala as well. Future work will pursue genetic and cellular mechanisms within the amygdala that contribute to bHR/bLR behavior either at baseline or following environmental manipulations. © 2015 S. Karger AG, Basel.

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