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Int J Dev Neurosci. 1998 Jun-Jul;16(3-4):187-97.

Postnatal maternal separation during the stress hyporesponsive period enhances the adrenocortical response to novelty in adult rats by affecting feedback regulation in the CA1 hippocampal field.

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Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Modena, Italy. gbiagini@C220.UNIMO.IT


The aim of the present experiment was to study the effects of early postnatal maternal separation on behavioural and adrenocortical responses to novelty in rats tested as adults. Sprague-Dawley rat pups were exposed to daily maternal separation (5 h/day) from postnatal day 2 to 6, during the stress hyporesponsive period. Since this procedure requires physical contact with the animals, a first control group of daily handled pups was introduced. A second control group, consisting of pups never handled or separated from the mother, was also considered. At postnatal day 45, the rats were tested in a two-compartment exploratory apparatus: the maternally separated and the non-handled rats, whose behavioural performance did not differ, showed higher emotional behaviour when compared with the handled rats (P < 0.05), suggesting that the handling procedure but not maternal separation improved the capacity to cope with novelty. Corticosterone plasma levels were found to be higher in the maternally separated rats than in the other two groups (P < 0.05), either at resting conditions or at 30 min after novelty exposure (P < 0.05). Levels of nuclear glucocorticoid receptor immunoreactivity in the CA1 hippocampal field were shown to be regulated by novelty exposure, as expected, in both the handled and the non-handled rats but not in the maternally separated rats. In conclusion, repeated maternal separation periods of 5 h/day during the first week of life produced long-lasting effects on the hippocampal regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis, which appear to be associated with increased responsiveness to stress stimuli in adulthood.

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