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Keywords:

  • perinatal stress;
  • pregnancy;
  • skeletal growth;
  • programming

Abstract

Stress during the prenatal and early postnatal periods (perinatal stress, PS) is known to impact offspring cognitive, behavioral, and physical development, but effects on skeletal growth are not clear. Our objective was to analyze effects of variable, mild, daily PS exposure on adult offspring long bone length. Twelve pregnant rat dams were randomly assigned to receive variable stress from gestational days 14–21 (Prenatal group), postpartum days 2–9 (Postnatal), both periods (Pre–Post), or no stress (Control). Differences in adult offspring tibia and femur length were analyzed among treatment groups. Mean tibia length differed among groups for males (P = 0.016) and females (P = 0.009), and differences for femur length approached significance for males (P = 0.051). Long bone length was shorter among PS-exposed offspring, especially those exposed to postnatal stress (Postnatal and Pre–Post groups). Results persisted when controlling for nose–tail length. These differences might reflect early stunting that is maintained in adulthood, or delayed growth among PS-exposed offspring. This study suggests that PS results in shorter long bones in adulthood, independently of effects on overall body size. Stunting and growth retardation are major global health burdens. Our study adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that PS is a risk factor for poor linear growth. Am J Phys Anthropol 149:307–311, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.