Maternal stress during pregnancy causes sex-specific alterations in offspring memory performance, social interactions, indices of anxiety, and body mass.

Department of Psychiatry, University of Colorado Denver, Aurora, CO 80045, USA.
Physiology & Behavior (Impact Factor: 3.16). 02/2011; 104(2):340-7. DOI: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2011.02.021
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Prenatal stress (PS) impairs memory function; however, it is not clear whether PS-induced memory deficits are specific to spatial memory, or whether memory is more generally compromised by PS. Here we sought to distinguish between these possibilities by assessing spatial, recognition and contextual memory functions in PS and nonstressed (NS) rodents. We also measured anxiety-related and social behaviors to determine whether our unpredictable PS paradigm generates a behavioral phenotype comparable to previous studies. Female Sprague-Dawley rats were exposed to daily random stress during the last gestational week and behavior tested in adulthood. In males but not females, PS decreased memory for novel objects and novel spatial locations, and facilitated memory for novel object/context pairings. In the elevated zero maze, PS increased anxiety-related behavior only in females. Social behaviors also varied with sex and PS condition. Females showed more anogenital sniffing regardless of stress condition. In contrast, prenatal stress eliminated a male-biased sex difference in nonspecific bodily sniffing by decreasing sniffing in males, and increasing sniffing in females. Finally, PS males but not females gained significantly more weight across adulthood than did NS controls. In summary, these data indicate that PS differentially impacts males and females resulting in sex-specific adult behavioral and bodily phenotypes.

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Available from
May 31, 2014