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Int J Dev Neurosci. 1998 Jun-Jul;16(3-4):209-16.

Maternal stress induces synaptic loss and developmental disabilities of offspring.

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Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, University of Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.


Mild prenatal stress affects the serotonergic system in the hippocampus of rat offspring. Pregnant rats were daily exposed to mild stress treatments (consisting of crowding and saline injection) during days 15 to 21 of pregnancy. Their offspring were assessed by a series of biochemical, histological and behavioral tests. On 35 days after birth, 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) level was decreased by 17% (P < 0.05), whereas 5-hydroxyindolacetic acid (5-HIAA) level was increased by 18% (P < 0.05) in the offspring of prenatally stressed rats. The metabolic rate (5-HIAA/5-HT) was increased by 49% (P < 0.01). Synaptic density in the hippocampus of prenatally stressed offspring was also decreased by 32% (P < 0.0001) on postnatal day 35. There was no significant group difference in the spatial learning acquisition test of the Morris water maze; however, in the reversal task, prenatally stressed 5-week old rats spent more time than control animals searching for the platform of the pool. Escape latency in the cued test showed no significant difference. Together with data in our previous studies, that have shown 5-HT to facilitate synapse formation and maintenance in the central nervous system, synaptic loss is suggested to occur in relation to changes of 5-HT system in the hippocampus of prenatally stressed offspring. This may be associated with reported changes in behavior and learning ability in prenatally stressed offspring.

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