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Keywords:

  • rhesus monkey;
  • maternal separation;
  • Lactobacilli;
  • gastrointestinal microflora;
  • psychological stress;
  • cortisol;
  • enteric infection

Abstract

The integrity of the indigenous microflora of the intestines after maternal separation was investigated in infant rhesus monkeys to determine whether psychological stress may lead to an internal environment conducive to pathogen infection. The stability of the indigenous microflora were estimated by enumeration of total and gram-negative aerobic and facultatively anaerobic bacterial species, specifically Lactobacilli, from coprocultures taken before and after maternal separation. In addition, behavioral and cortisol responses to separation were correlated to the microflora. A significant decrease in fecal bacteria, especially Lactobacilli, was evident on day 3 postseparation, with a return to baseline by the end of the week. The drop in the microflora was correlated with the display of stress-indicative behaviors, but not with cortisol secretion. In addition, infants who displayed numerous stress-indicative behaviors were more susceptible to opportunistic bacterial infection. These results suggest that strong emotional reactions to disruption of the mother-infant bond may increase vulnerability to disease. © 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Dev Psychobiol 35: 146–155, 1999